Disclaimer: I had noble intentions of replying to everyone last time, but then we hired more people at work and my hours increased greatly (I don't know either, but I'm sure as hell not gonna complain). Plus I somehow ended up spending every day for roughly two weeks at work due to a weird series of coincidences. But, hey! Story at last!

Firmer Ground

V. Kids Run Through The City

It took some doing, but eventually the two of them made themselves comfortable in a back corner of the room behind several crates. Full dark had set in, so Roxis dug out a canone rock to use as a candle and scattered some glowing petals around them. Then, putting a note of command into his voice without meaning to, Roxis said, "All right, let me see your leg."

They were seated at right angles to each other, since Roxis wanted to be able to see what he was doing and neither Vayne nor Eital would let him get up.

"Okay," Vayne mumbled, subdued now. He seemed to have used up all his assertiveness in insisting Roxis stay off his feet. Now, especially with Roxis' accidental demanding demeanor, he'd reverted back to the scared and shy act that had infuriated Roxis when he'd been convinced it was nothing but an act. He knew better now- while it was true that Vayne did show a core of steel when his friends were in trouble, the younger boy had always preferred to stay quietly in the background, usually right up until Flay went ahead and dragged him into the thick of things.

Of course, it didn't help matters any that Vayne was still quite uneasy any time he was left alone with Roxis. He'd reached the point already where Flay would have been a welcome presence. Even though it ran completely counter to everything Roxis knew about the two other young men, Flay's presence always seemed to calm Vayne.

Deep in thought, wondering to himself for the first time about the way Flay always seemed to be keeping something back, some knowledge of his that he'd chosen not to share, Roxis almost missed it when something in Vayne's leg simply... clicked into place.

That can't have just happened.

Roxis moved his hand back. Whatever it was clicked back out of place, and then back in, and it was only Vayne's suppressed hiss of pain and Sulpher's less subtle hiss of displeasure that brought Roxis violently back to himself.

Sulpher was staring at him, two bright pinpricks of light in the otherwise dark room. Roxis realised it had been longer than he'd thought. The rock and petals had all lost whatever glow they'd had some time ago.

He scrambled for a moment for something to say, finally settling on, "Well, your leg isn't broken." Except it had been, only not in anything like a normal way, and- he wasn't sure he was up to dealing with this right after a traumatic head injury, honestly. His head already ached quite enough, thank you.

He watched as Sulpher padded across the room towards them, only able to track the cat by his reflective eyes. Sulpher settled himself comfortably in the corner between the two boys and said, "Nikki must have made it back by now. If there's been no help yet, then the workshop's probably elected to come themselves in the morning rather than send any of the staff." Sulpher approved, of course- the fewer people who knew they'd made a mistake, the better. With Roxis and Vayne generally being the more highly regarded members of the workshop he doubted even Flay was likely to spread this tale.

"You're right," Roxis said at last, gingerly testing Vayne's leg a few more times. There was no sign of the previous break, although he was now hyper-aware of how easy it would be to just... click Vayne's leg out of place like that again. That was disturbing on a very deep level, for a great many reasons. "Vayne, you should get some rest. There's no point in both us staying awake all night." Well, and Roxis wanted to think in peace, which wouldn't happen with Vayne awake- but he wasn't going to mention that.

Roxis expected Vayne to protest being the only one to sleep, so he was a little surprised that the other alchemist tamely accepted his reasoning and was soon fast asleep. Well. That worked out well; now he could think in peace.

At least, he could have, if Sulpher hadn't decided that was a good enough cue to jump onto Roxis' chest again and settle himself with no sign of moving.

"Aren't you supposed to be keeping watch?" Roxis asked him.

"Yes," Sulpher agreed shamelessly, showing no sign of moving.

Roxis sighed, because he knew better than to argue with a cat, and struggled a little more upright without dislodging Sulpher or disturbing Vayne. "So what is it, exactly, that you're doing instead? Aside from staring at me."

"Waiting for you to come to your conclusion," Sulpher answered promptly, and then sat and lashed his tail while Roxis tried his best to ignore the cat and think.

The exact moment Roxis figured things out must have been obvious to Sulpher, because the cat abruptly tensed and a gentle weight became claws digging through Roxis' clothing and into his skin.

"Vayne's an artificial ma- but that means Theofratus- but...," Usually eloquent, Roxis struggled to put his realisation into words. "That's... impossible."

"Humans," Eital snorted, stretching as she got up from guarding the door. "How can something that's already been achieved be impossible? Besides, you're an alchemist. You're supposed to do the impossible."

"Well, that's..."

"Shh!" Eital's tail lashed, more violently than Sulpher's. "Seems they elected not to wait. I hear the beastgirl."

Seconds later, Nikki, Flay and Jess skidded into the room, and after that they were swept into such a whirlwind of energy and activity (courtesy of Flay, mostly) and fussing (mostly... actually, Flay again, oddly) that it was well past dawn by the time Roxis had enough time to really think about things.

By then, by their teammate's insistence, he and Vayne were resting in the loft, and Vayne had fallen soundly asleep again. Once again, Sulpher chose to join Roxis while Vayne slept.

"You can't tell anyone," Sulpher said.

Roxis stared out over his workshop. Anna drifted through a wall and startled Nikki into dropping an ingredient into Jess' synthesis too soon, causing a small explosion, causing Anna to start scolding them into helping her clean, causing Flay to vanish to parts unknown.

Roxis shook his head, dismayed. "Who would I tell?" After the silence stretched just long enough to start feeling awkward, he asked Sulpher the question that still nagged him, keeping his voice low. "What is he the Mana of?"

Sulpher stared at him for a long moment, then began to groom himself. Roxis sighed, quite familiar with cat for 'not helping you with this,' and resigned himself to trying to sleep with it weighing on his mind.

Guardian: Flay always seems to know things he shouldn't, doesn't he? I have to admit, I couldn't stand him at first, but then he became one of my favourite characters.

I'm sure I had something to say here, but I'm posting and going to sleep rather than stay up trying to recall it.