Life Crusades

Chapter Twenty-Two

Return

Ozemir slowly lowered to his knees and began to reach for the maps he'd previously spread out on the ground near the fire. He maintained a curious look on Harry as he did so. The young one was but a few feet away, muttering under his breath and kicking at the ground. He would mutter an apology after every time doing so and then go back to mumbling in irritation.

"Young one?"

When he was ignored, Ozemir sat back on his haunches and allowed his violet eyes to pull away from Harry in order to travel across the rest of the camp. Something felt distinctly off and most of that had to do with Harry's current disquiet. Ozemir peered around in search of Draco but the blond did not appear to be in the immediate area. Perhaps he had gone off scouting ahead of the rest of the troops. Wouldn't be the first time. The Scholar turned back and gasped in surprise to find Harry standing over him, not a foot away.

"I'm taking the lead today, Ozemir. Okay?"

Ozemir nodded once, slowly; never taking his eyes off Harry's face. The young one's expression was closed off but the Scholar could sense frustration and anger. No doubt the warriors could as well. This would need to be mended soon otherwise it would start to effect morale. Nerves were already unsteady and that was the last thing they needed within Taeneen. Beyond that, Ozemir wondered what Harry meant exactly. The question must have shown on his face because Harry elaborated without any prompting.

The young brunet emperor blew out a breath and looked away, eyes scanning the nearest foliage. "I know the way now."

Ozemir bolted to his feet. "How? Where, young one?"

Harry looked back at him. His severe expression lightened a bit at Ozemir's excitement. "The way is being shown to me."

Ozemir allowed the young one to walk off without asking any more questions… even though he had to bite his tongue hard to keep from asking how he was shown the way and by whom, as well as asking about Harry's upset mood. He calmed himself with the knowledge that he would find out. He always did.

The Scholar knelt back down and continued to gather his things, hurrying now so as not to give Brumek another reason to snap at him. They hadn't left yet and he'd snapped at Ozemir over a dozen times already that morning. "He's so mean sometimes," Ozemir whispered to himself, trying not to let it bother him. He had to remember where they were and that this was Brumek's element. He was a warrior, one of the warriors. He couldn't afford to be any type of soft right now.

"What is taking you so long?"

Before he could look up and answer, Brumek was already down across from him and grabbing up the rest of the scrolls. And though he was snatching them off the ground, at least he was taking care when rolling them back up and placing them in their respective pouches.

"Did you speak to Falde this morning?"

Brumek didn't answer until they were both standing again. "No. He is unavailable. He had to leave Borsteria unexpectedly, just after we left the rebel camp. He has yet to return."

"Where did he go?"

"The Concords."

Ozemir faced him. "That is sacred ground. Not even Demai'Tah would dare spill blood there."

"I didn't say he went because of any battle."

"Next time explain better," Ozemir snapped, not appreciating Brumek's 'speaking to a little one' tone. He stalked off before Brumek could snap back at him like he usually did. Brumek kept his mouth shut and watched Ozemir walk away; smirking with his grey eyes pinned on the fidgeting white wings moving away.

Ozemir picked up his pace when he caught sight of Harry again and dashed over. Taera was there straightening Harry's armor since he seemed to have clasped it on wrong this morning. Truthfully Harry seemed absentminded since the moment he left his tent. "Where is Draco?"

Harry's eyes narrowed on the ground. "Your guess is as good as mine. He disappeared right after leaving bed. Haven't seen the ignoring prat since."

"He's ignoring you?" Ozemir asked while his eyes moved to Taera, who stood behind Harry. She looked surprised also.

"His mental barriers are up and I haven't been able to find him since he left the tent."

"He went to scout the way," Taera announced.

Harry huffed. "But he doesn't know the new way now. He hasn't given me a chance to tell him."

"New way?"

"Yes." Harry turned away and searched the surrounding jungle again, looking for any sign of Talyn. Still he didn't' see her. He saw nothing like he had the previous days. And now he was feeling a little bit stupid for telling Ozemir and Taera he was certain of the right way when he actually didn't know yet. It didn't help that he was also feeling increasingly uneasy about Draco's unsettling behavior. Still, he had to do something. He had to make a decision and he had to do it now. The camp was packed up and the warriors were ready to go. Standing around waiting for the go ahead.

At least Draco had good timing. He finally reappeared; emerging from the dense foliage with five others just as Harry made the decision. Since Talyn still had not appeared, Harry decided they'd go off in the direction he'd seen her spirit last and hope it was the right way or that she would appear to correct him. He didn't even want to imagine how embarrassed he would be if he took them one way only to find out the correct way was in the opposite direction completely. How would he explain that mess-up without looking like an incompetent twat?

He started east and most of the others immediately followed. It was Draco and Brumek who lingered at the back, uncertain as they watched the elves departing.

"That's not north," Draco pointed out dryly.

"Perhaps if you'd taken a moment to communicate with your mate, you would know the situation. Just as you should have told Harry of your intention to scout ahead this morning."

Brumek could see his words had an impact but Draco remained tight-lipped and started walking after the increasingly disappearing backs of the others. If the blond thought he was going to get away with that, Brumek was happy to disappoint him. In three long strides he caught up with the young one and wrapped a hand firmly around his arm to stop him mid step. He then waved Hoihm off to go ahead. The Saen nodded and continued on, though he didn't wander off too far in front of them. Just enough to give Brumek the little privacy he wanted with his charge. Both the Saen and the warrior understood their young Emperor was going through a hard time.

Turning to him, Draco was tense under his hand and still did not meet his slate eyes. "What's one of the very first things we taught you two and your siblings, Draco? The most important?"

The blond huffed and finally wrenched his arm free. "Unity equals strength," he repeated immediately.

"And in regards to your legions?"

"Be aware of the others' movements."

"Prevents fractures within your forces."

Draco nodded and turned to him. He seemed much less hostile. In fact, worryingly, Draco looked tired and haunted. "We should catch up," he said.

Brumek nodded and gestured Hoihm that he could move closer. "By the way, you answered without thinking."

"It's what you taught us."

"Yes. Before your amnesia."

Draco's steps faltered and then stopped altogether. Brumek ignored him now and was instead falling. Draco watched him, eyes wide, as the Second shimmered and transformed into a massive wild wolf. The changed warrior gave a snarl and shot off, quickly becoming lost from view. No doubt to scout ahead their new direction.

Draco remained still for a moment; staring after the wolf with his hands balled into fists at his sides. Brumek's words filled him with hope that this might actually be the real reality. But the warrior's words did not assure him in any way. It made him angry. Everyone continued to repeat the same thing; that his memory would return soon, but nothing was happening. So how could he believe anything they said? He didn't want any more hope. If this ended up being a farce, he would die. Couldn't anyone understand that?


They had been walking for nearly an hour in the direction Harry had chosen- with no sight of Talyn- and by then he began to be sure he was leading everyone the wrong way. Without Draco's calm reasonable voice whispering into his head, he had just begun to panic when finally he sensed something familiar nearby; a tingling of his skin and a breath in his hair. He stopped his quick pace and all movement immediately stopped behind him. Harry stood there and slowly trailed his eyes around, taking in everything he could. He didn't pay any attention to the others until Brumek's big form towered over him from the side.

"Are you aware of our course?"

Harry frowned. "Who's in command here?" he demanded before stepping away towards the foliage he'd zeroed in on. Brumek turned to Ozemir with a questioning look. The Scholar only shrugged and continued to watch as Harry grasped a thick leafy branch with a cautious hand and pulled it down until he could see over the fan like leaves.

He let out a breath and grinned when he saw the now familiar hazy blue light hovering several feet away. Now that he knew what it was—who it was—the light seemed much warmer now. After a moment of watching, the light extended as before. Rising up and down, stretching until it was Talyn's height and becoming more distinguishable. Talyn's face didn't appear and neither did her body, but Harry could make out a faint outline. Now that he knew, he could tell the light was a person.

She turned then and walked on through the jungle, easily and very quickly disappearing within the foliage just a few degrees off his current course. Harry imagined she winked at him before turning and running off. She was always playful like that.

The grip he had on the branch tightened with such thoughts and he forcibly steered thoughts about Talyn being dead away. Focus on the task at hand, Harry. "This way," he called over his shoulder before following after the dead warrior.

"Harry!"

Ozemir sounded so bewildered and slightly annoyed at being left out of an explanation that when his arm was grabbed, his first thought was the Scholar. But then the grip tightened to an almost painful degree; too firm without provocation.

"What are you doing? What's going on?"

"You're hurting me."

Draco tightened his grip and jerked the brunet roughly closer. His silver eyes narrowed, and there was nothing in his eyes to suggest he was in any way fond of Harry. "Why are we going in a different direction today, Potter?" he demanded. "Did you think it wasn't important enough to share with me or maybe I'm not supposed to know at all? Is that it? Keep me in the dark and track my every movement? Make sure I don't see the truth?"

Harry ripped his arm away and took a step back. His heart was beating rapidly and anger gripped him quickly; blossoming from the fear he felt. Fear of his mate. "You would have known had you not been a prat all morning," he replied lowly. "You are the one ignoring me. And now that I have you here," Harry narrowed his eyes, "perhaps you can explain why."

Draco's eyes went cold. He clenched his jaw and his fists and moved into Harry's space, glaring down at him. "I don't have to explain myself to you or anyone else here."

It was impossible for Harry to keep the hurt and confusion off his face. He didn't know what was going on. What was wrong with Draco? Why was he suddenly treating him like this? "Draco?" he tentatively reached out for the blond, trying to grasp his hand. But Draco's nostrils flared, he immediately moved away, and that was as good as a stab in the heart and it showed on Harry's face.

He didn't hear Draco's sharp intake of breath or see the sudden alarm on the blond's face since he'd already been turning away. His ears were ringing and his heart was beating so fast it was making him dizzy. It was taking all of his effort to keep standing tall in front of the warriors and not give away the fact his insides had frozen solid. He needed to focus on something else. Raising his arm, Harry indicated the direction in which Talyn had disappeared and began to run that way.

The party went on and though Harry was pleased they were finally going the right way, throughout the day his mood didn't get any better and Draco's hostility seemed to climb. Not only with Harry, but with everyone. He walked alone and it was impossible for those around him not to notice the dangerous vibes emitting from their blond emperor. Suspicion was always clear in his eyes wherever he looked. As if he didn't believe what he was seeing. This did not change throughout the next few days.

The distance travelled after that day was far greater than before and Harry kept them at a brisk pace, pushing his company and himself. It was nearing day three after Talyn showed him the right way when Ozemir decided to step in. "We should stop for the night and make camp, young one. We are not at a point where we need to push our strength this far without rest."

"A little bit further tonight."

"Harry."

"It's not like we have the time to linger! We know the way now! We should keep going until we get there!"

"Snapping at me will not solve the problems you are having with your mate, young one," Ozemir replied under his breath so only Harry could hear him. "If you want me to allow it, you must give me something."

Harry wandered a few steps away, scratching the back of his head. Ozemir trailed after him and when he was back beside the brunet, Harry turned and whispered, "Talyn."

Ozemir gasped and his hands shot out to grip Harry's arms. "Explain!"

"She was able to cross planes and is now showing me the way. Can we please go on a little further?"

Harry continued on without waiting for an answer, but Ozemir followed after obediently, mind tumbling over what his young Emperor had just revealed. He wasn't worried anymore about how much the young ones and the rest of the party could do before exhaustion began to take its toll. This, at least, had Harry smirking to himself for a time.

"Why has no one tried to settle here since the great upheaval?" he questioned after some silence. Ozemir kept pace with him, never leaving his side unless there was something interesting to examine, which wasn't much since after the first day all the trees and plants were starting to look the same.

"Aside from the obvious danger," Ozemir began.

"The jungle is only dangerous if it isn't respected." Ozemir acknowledged this with a nod and a wide smile. "There must be other reasons."

"The jungle is already inhabited. It's been made clear we are not welcome. We have enough force to wipe them out, but they do not venture beyond Taeneen and our race has had more important things to worry over. The Royals did not think it was beneficial to use up resources and elfpower for such a venture."

Under the circumstances, Harry could understand that. "But hasn't anyone ever tried to make friends with the arthis? How are they approached? Like wild beasts or something?"

"Violence is usually the only outcome when our two kinds meet."

"Have you ever come across one?"

"Yes, but that was for purely academic study. I kept myself hidden and did not interact. I like them!" The Scholar declared.

Harry smiled. "They're not just animals though are they? I mean, do they have the capacity for reason? They must since they have the capacity to construct weapons and habitable structures..." he turned to the Scholar but Ozemir was no longer paying attention to him and instead had sharpened his focus on the area they were heading into. "Ozemir?"

"Shh, young one."

The area around was changing. The trees growing just a little less together and the ground rising, becoming harder and sharper. As they walked further, dirt became stone in some places. Large boulders rising up between trees like pillars. They were on the edge of a mountain range. If they kept on in this direction it looked like they were going to do some climbing in the near future. The company began to slow. It was far harder to sense elves behind stone than it was with trees and plants.

"Over there," Harry murmured, pointing out to his right. He and Ozemir stopped together to study what they were being led to. They were presented with a tall narrow fissure in one of the rising stone hills. Floating just in front of the dark crevice was Talyn. She started flying around the opening like a hyper firefly. Harry chuckled a little. "Apparently we go through the crack in the rock."

Brumek came up behind Ozemir and Harry. "Are you sure this is the way, young one?"

"Positive."

"I'll barely fit through there," he muttered.

"Go sideways," Ozemir helpfully advised with a goofy grin.

"Stay here," the warrior ground out to the two having a good laugh beside him. He then ordered a team to follow him and another team to maintain the area around the miniscule crack they were apparently about to squeeze through. And he was going through first. As Brumek approached the crevice he was relieved to see it was wider the closer he got so he did not have to turn sideways. But he and his team did have to go through one by one.

He wasn't gone five minutes before returning and calling Harry and Ozemir. When they entered the passage, they were very surprised to see the other side only feet away. It should have been visible at the entrance, and yet the other side didn't appear until you were already half way through the tight claustrophobic space. The entire tunnel was only ten feet long.

Ozemir paused and looked around the rock passage; keen eyes missing no detail. "Strange, but I feel no enchantment." And yet clearly there must be. A tug on his sleeve brought his attention back to the end of the passage. The Scholar's eyes widened. "This was not expected."

Directly beyond the short tunnel spread out a massive stone bridge, larger and wider than any elf made bridge. In Harry's opinion, it looked like a bridge made for giants. It arched high beside a waterfall and led around a green bend. Completely surrounding the bridge were long boulders densely covered by moss. It looked like an earthquake had one time shaken up the place. In fact Harry wasn't sure how the bridge could still be connected to both sides. His view of the edge was obscured from where he was standing but he didn't need to see to know the chasm below the bridge probably went on for some time. The waterfall wasn't crashing onto anything. The water just kept falling down and down.

"This would be an excellent place to stop and camp," Ozemir murmured. He was eying the bridge with terrifying delight. Clearly he'd never seen this before.

"I'm not too sure," Harry replied as he looked around. "In fact, I think you're insane."

"It is an excellent spot for an ambush," Brumek agreed with not so cheerful sarcasm when he came back with Draco and Taera. The rest of the warriors were told to remain back in the jungle until further notice.

Ozemir rolled his eyes at all of them and approached the bridge. It was of stone and it had some tears and fractures, but was relatively well preserved. The best were the marking he could see and the fact no elf had walked across it for centuries. Of that he was certain.

"Send the sentries up," Brumek murmured to Taera when he knew it would take some time to get Ozemir moving again. Taera immediately returned back through the tunnel to carry out the order. "We're not camping here, Ozemir."

Brumek was completely ignored. "Why do we need to stop at all?" Draco wanted to know. "No one really needs a rest. He wants to go on." A finger was pointed at Harry, who immediately scowled at the owner of said finger.

"I have a name, you monumental bastard!"

Brumek lowered his head and rubbed two fingers between his eyes, hoping the ache he was beginning to feel would not worsen. At least that seemed to be the only bickering the two were going to do now. Seems they were going back to ignoring each other. Harry spun away and trotted over to Ozemir. There he crouched down to his knees and snuggled into the Scholar's side until Ozemir wrapped a comforting arm around his charge.

"Draco, what is wrong?" Brumek asked under his breath to the expressionless blond standing but a few feet away.

"I don't know what you mean," was the flat reply received.

The headache was growing. "Hirsha…"

"Sir."

Brumek turned and saw Taera waiting at attention. He then looked to where he expected to see the sentries. The winged elves who would guard from above and make sure they wouldn't have any visitors dropping by unannounced. He didn't see the sentries. "A problem?"

"Yes, sir. Perhaps."

Brumek raised a brow and turned his attention back to Ozemir. Seeing that his mate was in fact paying attention and had heard that, Brumek followed after Taera, knowing Ozemir's guard was up even if he didn't look like it. He followed Taera back through the passage and to the other side. Taera started to climb the nearest tree and Brumek followed suit. He climbed after her until they were near the very top canopy. "The bridge and the rock formation surrounding it should be nearly directly below us, sir."

Brumek paused and turned to where she was standing on the branch over from him. "You are my sister now. I would not be displeased if you used my name when we're alone."

Taera was taken by complete surprise as told by the widening of her pink eyes. Brumek did not wait for her to respond and turned back to the problem at hand. His eyes narrowed. He saw nothing. None of the rock formations towered as high as the ones surrounding the bridge did. "Ascend from the bridge, Taera. Rise high above the rocks."

The High Lieutenant nodded and was quickly off. Brumek waited, expecting to see her ascend from somewhere very close to him. Thinking perhaps that section of the jungle was shielded; though he had a small suspicion a shield was not the case here. He allowed minutes to pass as he watched, waited, calculated. Finally he returned to the jungle bed and to the bridge. Taera was still in the air. Harry and Ozemir now with her. All three were hovering in slow circles, looking out above the mountainous boulders that surrounded the path. All had looks of astonishment on their faces.

Brumek grit his teeth. He wanted to see and no way was he going to ask for a ride up there. Most of the stone around him was too smooth for him to jump and climb.

"Brumek, over here," Draco called from the other side of the bridge. He'd managed to jump up onto a very narrow hidden ledge, and from there he'd been able to jump around, three boulders over and higher. It wasn't an easy climb, but eventually they made it to the top and stood upon surprisingly flat ground, as if constructed by hand instead of the elements.

"We're not in the jungle anymore, are we?"

Brumek ignored Draco's stupid question and paced a circle around, studying the horizon, of which he could see the entire thing. No dense foliage blocked his view of the sky and beyond. And beyond was the sea. The path after the bridge seemed to direct them straight to the sea.

"But where is the enchantment?" Ozemir cried in frustration, twirling around in the air. Eyes wide and searching for answers.

"So… we're really not in the jungle anymore? What if we fly off beyond the stone enclosure?"

"I wouldn't suggest straying off the path, young one," Ozemir cautioned with a very firm look at Harry. He then turned to his mate. "We'll camp here tonight. Outside of the entrance. And then we move on tomorrow, crossing the bridge and passing through."

"Have we checked that, by the way?" Draco questioned. "The other side?" Ozemir nodded that he had. "And? Is there a path along a beach or something?"

"Actually it leads us back into the jungle." And he looked completely annoyed while saying this.


Camp was quickly made, patrols sent out, and the leaders of the expedition gathered together within the Emperors tent to discuss what they'd found so far. "What do you think it could be?" Harry asked of the fact the bridge seemed to be somehow outside of the jungle.

"Magic."

Harry did not appreciate the acerbic way Draco had responded. Their eyes clashed from across the table. "Clearly," he ground out.

"Children," Ozemir interrupted with such a firm look even Draco looked momentarily shamed. "At this time I have been unable to determine anything. We could spend all night debating this. We will not," he went on quickly when Brumek was clearly about to object. "I think we should sleep and examine this further in the daylight. But this must be examined."

"Agreed," Harry said with Brumek and Draco also agreeing. Soon the two guardians were gone from the tent, leaving a very stiff and silent blond and Harry who was just plain tired, hurt, and bewildered.

He had expected Draco to leave his immediate area as soon as the meeting had ended, but since Draco didn't look as if he were going to leave Harry decided instead of staying mad he would use this opportunity to try and figure out the current stick up his husband's arse. He had a plan and it was fool proof. Caellum would be able to soften Draco up some.

"I'm going to go see if Caellum's still awake. You coming?" he asked, already heading to the back.

"No."

The no didn't register right away but when it did he spun around in disbelief. Draco was standing now, angled toward the door. "What?"

"I don't want to right now."

"You don't want to?" he repeated slowly, never having considered Draco would turn down a chance to see Caellum. It was inconceivable. "You don't want to see our son?" he asked again, his voice barely a whisper.

Anger flashed across Draco's face as he turned away completely and his long legs carried him out of tent before Harry could even blink. Harry had no idea how to react to this and so chose to numbly turn around and disappear into the back. It was fortunate Caellum was still awake by the time Harry tuned in; he really needed the comfort he gained in seeing his son's smiling face. It thawed away some of the cold he was now feeling.

He managed to keep his cool when first speaking with Sirius, but after the initial greeting with his son, the lack of Draco started to take its toll and he felt himself crumbling. Harry leaned forward, pressing his hands on the wall; on each side of Caellum's face. Caellum babbled happily and started to rub his nose against the wall. Harry started out laughing but a sob broke free of his restraints. He hadn't meant to. He didn't want to upset his son. But the prince pulled back slightly, his happy little smile fading. His golden eyes holding awareness no human baby could possess at such a young age. Harry's heart swelled with such love and pride.

"It's okay, love. Mommy's okay."

"Mama sa?"

"I'm okay," Harry whispered, trying desperately to keep his voice from trembling. "I'm not sad. I'm very happy to see you."

Caellum was suddenly scooped up. Harry looked to find Lucius had picked up his grandchild. He gave Harry a soft smile before turning away, murmuring to Caellum he could talk with his mama in a minute. And then Sirius was there, kneeling in front of him. Concern in his gray eyes. "What is it, pup?"

"Something's wrong," he whispered lowly, fingers curling into fists against the wall. "Draco won't talk to me, won't look at me, and won't sleep with me. Avoids me like the plague. He wouldn't even visit Caellum with me. Before you ask, we didn't get into a fight. I just…I-I don't k-know what I've done to deserve this treatment. And I have this feeling that if he could, he'd block off feeling me in his mind just like he blocked my voice."

Sirius shook his head. "Even if you did get into a fight, I don't see Draco avoiding Caellum as well."

"How can I figure out what's wrong if he won't talk to me?"

"Perhaps Ozemir?" Sirius murmured while wishing he could get his hands on Draco to strangle his step-son until the prat told him why he was doing what he was doing. It may not show, but it was wreaking havoc on Harry's mental state. Harry nodded at his suggestion. "Buck up, Harry. You know how Caellum can sense your discord."

Harry smiled softly. "He's brilliant."

"Without a doubt. He'll make a fine Crown Prince, Harry. And he's such a lovable little boy. You and Draco should be proud."

"You have no idea how much."

Mischief colored Sirius' face as he leaned closer to the wall. "You might be pleased to know Luce and I have seen definite signs of baby flirting going on between Caellum and Zohrek."

Harry was very pleased with this bit of news and his eyes finally lit up. Sirius laughed and went on. "Maybe not flirting, but it's quite clear to us they have a bond. They're good for each other. Zohrek tends to stay quiet some times and Caellum draws him out. But at the same time, Zohrek grounds Caellum; controls him, calms him down. Even as babies they take care of each other when it's clear they miss their parents. Without each other, I think they would be more… depressed."

"We're trying to hurry."

"I know, Harry. Like I said, they take care of each other. And they have Luce and me, and the triplets. They frequently visit the Nest. They'll be fine until you return from your expedition… Talk to Ozemir, Harry. If you can't get through to Draco, maybe he can. He's good at that."

"I want my Draco back, Sirius."

Sirius nodded, wishing he could run a hand through Harry's hair. Wishing he could reach through the wall and hug him and make the hurt go away. "I know you do, kiddo."

"He's not the same. I thought he was, but… this Draco isn't the Draco who's been through so much with me and I can tell."

"It's a lot to take in, Harry. You can't forget to look at it from his unclear point of view. He doesn't remember a thing. All he has is our word for it. No Slytherin I know would simply take that without lingering suspicions."

"I know."

It was clear on his face Sirius wished to say more but he and Harry knew nothing he said could fix this. Sirius soon called Lucius back over with Caellum and Zohrek and the four were able to cheer him up some; that was until Harry could feel Draco's presence just outside the room. He was keeping very quiet and still. Knowing that the blond was just outside made Harry angry and since it was anger, he was better able to deal with that and not let Caellum see it. Draco only remained in the tent a few minutes longer before he was suddenly gone again. Did he wish to stay away from Harry so much that he would sacrifice the chance to see Caellum when they had a chance? This question burned in Harry's mind all night.


Very early in the morning hours nothing much stirred within the camp. Most were taking the opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep while the few others awake were keeping watch or patrolling. Most were up in the trees, while four others patrolled the darkened and fog drenched camp.

This is what Ozemir saw when he carefully pulled back his tent flaps and slowly pressed forward until only his pale face was visible. His eyes were wide and bright, even in the dullness of the mist. And the grin on his face would have been hard to ignore had anyone been watching.

Seeing the coast was clear- specifically clear of a certain patrolling Second- Ozemir darted out of his tent and headed straight for the tunnel and the hidden bridge. He had very little time and much to study, knowing he would have next to no time in the morning to investigate, despite the agreement made the night before. But even Ozemir knew they were on a time schedule.

Once at the bridge he began sketching it; sketched the entire bridge and the brown stone rock formations towering around it. He did this at several different angles. He then flew up and began many tests. He'd already committed each marking to memory, going over every inch of the bridge to do so. He didn't have much time left before the main group awoke. If he was going to do it, he thought he should do it now. Before Brumek discovered him missing from camp. By the time his mate did come upon him, Ozemir had finished his tests and was sitting on the bridge staring down into the abyss.

"You didn't spend all night here, did you?" Brumek asked gruffly, fully prepared to get angry if the answer was a yes.

"I've found… nothing." Ozemir blinked wide eyes full of perplexity. "Nothing Brumek. And the path on the other side only leads us back into Taeneen, exactly where we left it. It makes no sense—but there must be a reason," he went on softly to himself.

"Ozemir… we cannot linger. I would allow it if circumstances were different…"

Ozemir stood and smiled at his wonderful mate. "No, my love. We must move on, I understand. I've already marked the location of the bridge on the map- the entrance and exit- I've put down detailed descriptions of the bridge." The Scholar trailed a hand along his mate's arm as he passed him towards the camp. "Perhaps further along our journey this will make sense. Maybe Hirsha will provide more clues."

"Were the gods not said to appear as giants in some recollections?"

Ozemir paused and Brumek watched his back. And then his mate cast a look over his shoulder; a huge goofy grin on his face. That bright smile that blinded and gave headaches and made Brumek's chest ache with such burning love for his mate.

Ozemir pranced back to him and laughed with pleasure. "You did go to the Academy!"

As expected Brumek scowled. Ozemir was still chuckling to himself when he tossed his arms around his not-so-bothered mate and pressed their lips together. To the Scholar's immense relief, Brumek gathered him up tight in his arms; one arm wrapping tightly around his back under his wings, while the other hand clung to the back of his head. Ozemir was both soothed and excited. It was a thrill Brumek gave him time and time again.

The two were standing at the center of the bridge and did not notice Draco standing in the shadows of the tunnel watching them. Kind of seeing now why the Scholar acted like his entire world consisted of this arsehole warrior.

"So we are going the right way," Draco heard Brumek murmur.

"I think so, yes!"

Draco slipped away and this time he was unaware of the two pairs of eyes watching his retreat, both gazes no longer light and warm. When he was gone, Ozemir turned to Brumek, hands clutching his biceps. "Harry came to me last night. Draco refused to visit Caellum with him. Something is very wrong with our young one. "

Brumek could not disagree.

"I am uncertain how to approach him," Ozemir whispered.

"You could do it my way."

"I'm not certain that would be in any way helpful."

"Fine. You try it your way, but I know Draco. You'll end up doing it my way in the end." Ozemir was gathered close again; happily squished up against his mate's broad chest while the look in Brumek's eyes stole his breath away. "And I will gloat."

It wasn't long before camp was packed up and the company made their way across the bridge located somewhere along a beach and then back into Taeneen. They kept up their brisk pace throughout the day and Ozemir concluded if it really were Talyn leading them to their destination, then she seemed to be leading them around danger as well since they hadn't once been interrupted or attacked by anything. Towards the late morning Ozemir broke away from Harry and made his way to the back of the line where Draco seemed to have taken up permanent residence.

The blond must have known what he was about because as soon as Ozemir dropped from the trees to land nimbly beside him, Draco hurried forward to get lost amongst the sea of fifty warriors. Ozemir didn't follow since he'd only cause a scene and that would certainly not get Draco to open up to him. But he did try again two hours later and again with the same results. The third time Ozemir blocked Draco's path, the blond snarled out, "leave me alone. I don't want to talk about it." And then he pushed passed and continued on and Ozemir was becoming distraught. He'd never had problems before with getting his young ones to open up to him. It was one of his duties as their guardian and he enjoyed doing it. Taking care of the young ones. But he couldn't help if Draco wouldn't speak.

Just after sundown the search party fell upon another short tunnel hidden in plain sight. And yet again the location looked as if it had been plucked out of one region and dropped unceremoniously into Taeneen. And still, the path led them back into Taeneen. The only difference this time around was the object the path turned into. In lieu of a giant bridge, it was instead giant stairs. A steep stairway that led down and down, the stairs carved against the stone wall and descending in spiral form. According to Ozemir the type of stone they were surrounded by was not indigenous to Taeneen's region.

The journey down the stairs took three hours. This was mainly due to the frequent stops they had to make in order for Ozemir to record markings and ancient writings they came across. Everyone agreed it would be best if the Scholar were allowed to gather as much information as he could on the way since they had no idea what was going on or where they were essentially going.

Harry was almost back to his normal self during this period; he was having a grand time with the mysterious giant stairway. And it meant they were getting somewhere. Further in their quest. Granted they didn't know exactly where they were going or what they would find when getting there, but he was happy enough now with the time and pace they were making. Making sense of it all could be done as they travelled.

So it comes as no surprise that when they finally arrived at the bottom and discovered just another short tunnel and Taeneen on the other side, both Ozemir and Harry were a bit frustrated. Ozemir didn't know what it meant and that was driving him mental. Harry was back to feeling like they were wasting time. And now that he had nothing to fully focus on, he was back to thinking about Draco as well. Draco who had kept out of his sight all day.

Ozemir rushed Harry into seclusion once they'd gotten back into Taeneen because the strain of Draco's avoidance was starting to show. Harry spent most of his time going over Ozemir's notes, studying the jungle map and other books he'd brought along, trying to make sense of everything. He never slept. He stayed away from the back room; away from the bed. Draco stayed away from the tent the entire night.

In the morning Ozemir swept in with a tray of breakfast for the two and found Harry in the front room, slumped in a chair at the table, head resting atop a book. Quietly he deposited the tray beside the book- Harry appeared to have been studying the arthis- and then went further into the tent searching out Draco. But the blond wasn't anywhere to be seen and it was clear neither he nor Harry had used their bed that night.

Returning to the front room, Ozemir studied Harry's slumped shoulders. He'd known Draco was already awake having seen him earlier, but to find he'd actually been out the entire rest period… Ozemir was flummoxed and now more than a little concerned for Harry's mental state. Not only that, but his physical state as well. No doubt he hadn't had a productive sleep at the table. Not to mention Draco had looked exhausted which meant he was skipping out on sleep as well.

Placing hands on Harry's shoulders from behind, Ozemir gently shook his charge awake. Harry awoke alert enough, eyes wheeling around before focusing on Ozemir over his shoulder. "Morning, love."

Harry dipped his head in acknowledgment that it was indeed morning. He didn't seem to care.

"I've brought you breakfast."

"I'm not very hungry, thanks."

"You need to eat, Harry."

Harry shook his head and then pulled in a shaky breath. "Draco was here last night. Only for a moment," he said quietly. "I don't know why but I asked him if he loved me. I just… I needed to hear him say it."

Ozemir squeezed his shoulders gently. "What did he say?"

"He said I'm not the Harry he remembers." Harry looked over his shoulder again; green eyes swimming in doubt. "That's answer enough, right?"

"Harry, no. Of course he loves-"

"I asked him if he wanted to see Caellum with me. He refused again… He was looking at me like I was about to stab him in the heart." Harry dropped his chin to his chest and laughed hollowly. "As if he hadn't done just that to me."

Ozemir tried to reason with him, but Harry wasn't listening. He simply shook his head and hunched back over the book; the Scholar was quite certain not a word was being read.

"Are we leaving soon?"

Ozemir frowned deeply. "No, young one. Our start has been delayed." And with that the Scholar strode out of the tent. A determined glint in his reddening eyes. Brumek's way then.


Currently Draco was crouched on a bolder- having no idea what was about to happen to him- and staring at the piece of metal clasped between his fingertips. Twisting it around and around. After a moment he pressed the wedding ring in his palm, growling lowly. That growl was immediately cut off when Ozemir materialized in front of him, appearing out of nowhere with his red eyes narrowed to slits.

"What do you want?"

The Scholar snarled and struck out with a hand; backhanding Draco with such force it had the tall blond flying back off the boulder to land on his back several feet away.

Ozemir hissed as he stalked towards the dazed young one. "What is the matter with you?" he asked in a deadly soft whisper. "You cannot treat your mate in such a way without reason. I will not allow it. I will not allow you to hurt Harry in such a way."

Draco was blinking rapidly, trying to clear his dazed head. "How dare you-"

"I dare!" Ozemir hissed as he bent and grabbed Draco around the neck and easily hoisted the young one up in the air. Draco balked. His feet dangled at least two feet above the ground. "I dare. I have every right, young one. I am one of your guardians. I have the right to take you to task for your behavior. It is unacceptable. Whatever bothers you, do not take it out on your mate. Do you not understand the pain he is going through right now?"

"WHAT ABOUT MY PAIN?" Draco shouted. His eyes widening as everything came flooding out of him. Flooding past the barriers he'd tried to keep in place for the past several days. Ever since that nightmare.

Ozemir released him and Draco fell to the ground in a heap. "Speak," the Scholar ordered, watching as Draco dragged himself to his knees. "Talk to me, Draco."

Draco opened his mouth and everything he felt, everything that had happened came pouring out. Ozemir listened and as he did, his rage dissipated rather quickly and soon he was on his knees in front of Draco, holding the blond and rubbing his hands up and down the larger elf's back. The young one was shaking with grief.

"Draco," he breathed. "That was only a nightmare, I assure you."

"But how do I know?" he shouted. "How do I know? How can I be sure this isn't the dream? It felt so real and I was going out of my mind. Harry tried to commit suicide and he hated me and Hermione wasn't my sister and the Dark Lord still wanted to kill me for my betrayal and Caellum didn't exist… I was human! I hated it!"

"That right there should have told you you were dreaming."

"I wanted my mate so badly but he hated me and he tried to kill himself, Ozemir! If I hadn't interrupted…"

"Did anything feel right?" Ozemir asked softly.

"No. No and yet it felt so real. The whole day, walking to and from classes. Sights, smells, everything."

Ozemir realized this was only happening because of Draco's lack of memory. It was all catching up to him. A whole year gone and so much had happened. Such drastic changes. It was no wonder Draco was having doubts as to what was real or not. And Ozemir could sympathize, and he felt pain. He felt Draco's pain. To be trapped in a dream where what he was and what he'd always wanted had been stripped from him.

"It's your memory loss, Draco."

"How do you know?" the blond ground out. "And how can I be sure? You're probably a trick! All of you!"

"Maybe you should knock his head against the boulder," a rough voice suggested from some feet away. It was not a pleased voice. The two looked over to find Brumek standing there. Legs spread and arms crossed over his chest. He looked very displeased. But of course he was. He didn't like to see Harry hurting because his mate was being a bastard to him for seemingly no reason whatsoever. "That might help his memory."

"Brumek," the Scholar said with a frown, forgetting that he himself had just struck the young one. But that had been before he knew all the facts. Poor Draco.

"No, Ozemir. He's refused to see his son twice now and Harry's starting to doubt himself. He will begin to deteriorate without his mate. I will not stand by and let this happen. You are giving yourself unnecessary grief, Draco."

Draco had been glaring at the warrior, but his words had an effect. "What do you mean deteriorate? Why would he doubt himself?"

"You've been told about his abuse," Ozemir began softly. "We've all come to understand Harry may never fully recover mentally from such long term trauma."

A pain laced through Draco's head just as a vision did. He was standing in a doorway and before him Harry was laying bloody at the foot of a staircase. A fat man was standing over him, kicking Harry over and over again, spewing out hatred and revulsion and Harry was dying before his very eyes.

"It wasn't only Dursley's abuse, but also the way he was manipulated his entire life, just like your brother," Ozemir went on, not noticing Draco's eyes were shut tight and wet as more pain and more visions assaulted his mind.

He was sitting in a packed courtroom now. Harry, Severus, and Tom sitting beside him. They were watching a Pensieve memory. Draco witnessed Dumbledore's murder of Harry's parents and then witnessed the destruction of little Tom Riddle's mind. Every detail of those Pensieve memories came flooding back to him. Every disparaging word Harry endured; every slap, kick, and punch. The broken life of young Harry Potter.

"He was belittled his entire life, Draco. Made to feel as if he were nothing by that beastly fat human. He is never as self assured as he seems to be. He needs you, Draco. You make him strong. There isn't anyone or anything in any world that can make him as strong as you do. You are his anchor." Ozemir laughed then. "I remember when Caellum was being born and Harry became so frustrated and very angry with you. He kicked you out of the room only to turn around and call you back in again. He was a panic without you."

Another slew of visions took up every inch of Draco's attention and he slumped to his side and curled up into a fetal position as he remembered Harry's pregnancy and especially Caellum's birth. His son's first cry into the world. He'd never been so happy in his life then when he'd held both his exhausted husband and newborn son in his arms.

These weren't visions. These were memories. His memories. He let go and as soon as he surrendered, the pain subsided slightly. Enough to where he could see out of blurry wet eyes and see Ozemir's worried face looming over him. "I'm okay," he rasped out. "I need to be alone."

"But Draco-"

Brumek came over and dragged his mate away. "Told you my way would work. Time for gloating."

Draco climbed to his feet and staggered farther away from the camp until he found a bush he could collapse nearly under. Hoihm came close, but he continued to give Draco silence, understanding what was going on and that it needed to happen.

Draco gasped again as another memory shoved itself to the front of his mind. He and Harry were standing in front of a full length mirror- it having been widened for two previously by Draco who hadn't wanted to cut his mirror time in order to share.

"Are you sure we don't look a bit fairy-ish?" Harry asked as he touched his left pointed ear.

Draco cast a sideways glance at him. They'd just come from the library where they'd taken a trip down memory lane. Specifically Dumbledore's memories of the night the Potters were killed. His little mate was acting suspiciously calm about it all. The fact that he hadn't mentioned it once since leaving the library was worrying. But instead of voicing his worry, he would go along with Harry for now. Besides this was the first time they had been given a long enough chance to stand back and really study their new dark elf selves.

"You might, a little. But I certainly do not."

Harry turned and punched his arm. "Git. And look at the length of you! The mirror cuts off at the top of your head for fuck's sake!"

"That's easily fixed," the blond said, arching an eyebrow at the mirror and watching as it lengthened another two feet. Harry muttered something under his breath about tall arseholes.

Turning with a smirk, Draco grabbed Harry and with little effort hoisted his mate up until Harry's legs were wrapped around his waist and arms were around his neck. He leaned in until their noses were touching. "You adore my height. Admit it."

Harry brushed their lips together; feather light. "Never," he whispered, grinning.

Draco ran a slightly elongated fingernail down the shell of Harry's ear and slipped his free hand into inky black hair at Harry's nape; thumb caressing the flesh there and causing Harry to shiver and purr. "We don't look fairy-ish," he assured after stealing a second feather light kiss. "But I think a closer inspection is in order, don't you?"

It wasn't very long before he had Harry back in bed where they made love and meticulously explored their new bodies.

Back in the present, Draco turned over onto his back and stared up at the jungle canopy breathing in deeply and grinning like a loon. He could see Harry looking down at him with wide eyes, breathless as he eyed the engagement ring nestled in the small black box being presented to him. He could see Harry smiling at him. At their wedding. He could remember Harry walking down the aisle with Severus. Always two steps ahead of Severus, who looked more amused than anything until it came time to hand Harry over and then his godfather got serious and gave his take care of him speech that was expected. Draco hardly heard it. He'd been busy staring at Harry. Drinking in every inch of his soon to be husband.

"Hirsha," he breathed and brought his hands up to wipe at his eyes. He wasn't sure how long he lay there before finally sitting up but it couldn't have been less than an hour. Hoihm was beside him quickly once he'd moved to sit up and the Saen immediately held out a water skin. Draco accepted it with a nod and took a long drink; his throat was parched. Embarrassment colored his cheeks a little when he realized that was because he'd been crying at some point.

"Draco?"

Draco looked to find Hoihm holding out an arm. He took it and allowed the Saen to help him back to his feet. He stumbled a foot; hand bracing against his forehead.

"Easy. I imagine you're not in top form."

"That bloody child!" the blond snapped.

Hoihm kept a steady hand around his arm and studied his face intently. "Do you remember?"

"Yes."

Hoihm nodded. "With respect, Highness, I suggest you go and speak with your mate immediately."

Draco dashed off without another word.


Harry leaned forward, dropping his arms onto the table as he studied the map of Taeneen closely. It already had Ozemir's changes added to it. "This doesn't make sense, Talyn. What's the point of that bridge? It's in the middle of nowhere. The stairs too."

Harry's view of the map was wrenched away when the back of his chair was suddenly pulled back and to the ground, toting him with it. "Oi!" Harry shouted and tried to scramble out of the chair and from the floor. He only managed to twist his torso around when he saw the boot that was now holding the back of the chair to the floor.

"I told you so."

Harry blinked and looked up at hearing Draco's accusatory tone. He didn't move any further than that and could only crane his neck back to stare up at his husband, who had a mild glare on his face. Something seemed different about Draco but he couldn't immediately say what it was. The fact that the blond git was talking to him was a small relief but the fact that he was also clearly aggravated was not relieving. Before he could demand to know why he'd been rudely thrown to the floor, Draco continued to speak.

"I bloody well told you so," Draco continued, staring down at him with sharp silver eyes and a displeased frown and a low drawl. The Malfoy brow was even arched. "I told you it was dangerous. I told you it was a trap. But did you want to listen? No. No, you didn't. So what happened in that underground temple, lover? Imagine, we fell into a trap."

Harry lay there, still half twisted and staring up; silent until Draco's words made sense and he understood why something was different. Truthfully it wasn't different. In fact it was just right.

Harry still didn't move a muscle but he did find his voice again. "Draco."

"Yes?"

"Draco, you're back!" Harry wasn't in any way graceful as he wrestled with the chair and battled his way back to his feet; using Draco's legs to help himself up. "Draco, you're back!"

Draco laughed and caught Harry before he could tumble back to the floor. "Idiot."

Harry jumped and plastered against him; legs wrapped around his waist and face pressed tightly against the blond's throat. "Draco," he breathed in relief.

Draco carded a hand through his hair and brushed lips against Harry's warm temple. "I've come away from this experience with one thing."

"What's that?" Harry asked softly.

"We're both completely pathetic when separated."

Harry snorted and then tightened his arms further; the vice grip move.

"Harry, listen to me. Please forget about my behavior the last few days, lover. Clearly I was not myself."

Harry gave a short nod and nuzzled his nose against that tasty throat. "What happened?"

Draco told him about the nightmare. He left out no detail even though he had a moment's thought of doing so. He then went about snogging his mate in order to distract Harry from worrying about him and that nightmare. Because he knew that's all it was now. A dream manifested because of his stupid subconscious fears. He had his memory back now and everything was fine. He would see to it that everything slid back to normal—as normal as usual anyway.

"Draco. Draco, we can't now," Harry murmured regretfully, though he made no move to extricate the mouth from against his throat. Nor did he try and pry his own arms from around his husband's neck.

"I'm the bloody Emperor, Harry. If I want to delay the march for half an hour longer, than I will do so and not feel the slightest bit of guilt. No one beyond Brumek would say a thing about it."

"Git!" Harry laughed, arms tightening further. His relief and pleasure at having Draco back completely whole evident in his shining eyes and he dipped his chin and let Draco's persuasive lips destroy the rest of what he was going to say. His eyes might have been stinging and wet but he didn't let that bother him and Draco didn't say anything about it. That pain in his chest instantly released him when he realized Draco could remember again. Draco without his memory had been all well and good, but he hadn't been his lover completely. He wasn't the Draco that had gone through so much with him, who had grown into his own along with Harry.

"You've missed me, haven't you, lover?"

A garbled hum was all the answer Harry could give. Draco was grabbing at him. Fingers digging into him wherever the blond could find purchase. Frantic possessive and firm clenching of the fingers. This Draco grabbed at him differently; more assuredly and like an elf possessed. Like something had happened and he was afraid if he didn't grab onto Harry with claws then his mate might be ripped away from him by some unseen force. This was always how Draco had touched him.

Draco stayed true to his word and held up the camp without remorse; making their rest period run on far longer than usual. The only reason why Brumek wasn't having a conniption was because Ozemir pointed out that if the young ones were in the tent together and for such a long time, then that must mean they were talking again and things were being resolved. A good thing all around.


A/N: Here it is! The long awaited chapter 22. Thank you all for being patient and sticking with me and this story. As I've said before, I will not discontinue this story or the Black Bunny but updates are probably going to be slow. I can't promise speedy updates, because I've tried and failed to keep up the schedule I started this story with. You can blame RL for that.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this installment and if you did, please review. Until next time, have a great weekend and stay safe everyone! :D