The room was almost completely silent, save for the sound of laboured breathing that came from the bed that Presea was guarding. The tiny axeman had examined every single detail of the room twice over, but still she couldn't bear to turn her gaze to the unconscious boy who lay at her side. Her entire body thrummed with a pain that confused her, and she looked down at her bandaged hands absently. The wounds she'd sustained fighting back the score of angels that Yggdrasil had summoned to delay them while he escaped should hurt, but she could only feel the agony in her chest instead.

Part of her still couldn't grasp the facts of what had happened that night. From a drug-induced stupor she had been roused by an equally-dazed Regal, and the group had rushed outside and head-on to a strange conflict. On the ground before them had lain Kratos, who had apparently been injured while defending Lloyd from Yuan's sneak-attack. The angel himself likewise was collapsed, and standing over him with a cruel smirk and a gloating laugh was the young boy they had believed to be a friend.

The horror had played out swiftly from there, with Mithos Yggdrasil laughingly explaining the deception to them. His eyes were cold and ruthless, and he'd extended his hand to strike down the automaton doll that he'd claimed resembled his sister. In the shock of his actions there had been a pause, and using that he had set his hand on Presea and made to blast her as well. Presea shivered unconsciously at the memory, and she rubbed her hands over her arms as goosebumps peppered her skin. She had frozen as that white mass of mana went hurtling towards her, and she had truly thought herself dead in that moment.

Unbidden her eyes moved to see the figure who had reacted to save her life, and the sight of him sent a lance of agony and guilt through her tiny body. She leaned forward unconsciously and reached out to gently brush away a lock of silver-white hair that had fallen over his closed eyes. Her voice was a painful whisper as she murmured his name, and she felt hot tears prickling the corners of her eyes, "Genis..."

Genis had moved with a lightning speed that astounded them all, and with his arms outstretched he'd thrown himself into the path of the attack and took it in the chest. The charge had hit him violently and tore through his clothes and straight into him with a vengeance. He'd been sent flying backwards, colliding with the girl he had saved, and then collapsed on the ground. Horrified, Presea had only managed to push herself up and stare hopelessly as she caught sight of the gaping wound that had torn his chest asunder.

To her everlasting shock and confusion the half-elf had met her gaze with pain-glazed eyes, and he had smiled at her. With blood trickling from his lips and oozing from his wound he had smiled, and then whispered a handful of words that had haunted the axeman from sleeping since.

"Are you... okay, Presea?"

What had happened afterward was a blur to Presea, and she could only remember hearing Lloyd's anguished bellow as he charged forward, intent on killing the angel who had struck down his best friend. She had been told that Pronyma had appeared to delay them, and with her a garrison of angels had aided Yggdrasil's escape. She had fought to keep the enemies away from the fallen half-elf as Raine administered emergency first-aid to her little brother, and then the night had frozen.

Altessa's home had become a grotesque battlefield after shortly having been a place of healing. The bodies of angels had once littered the ground outside, but she had heard that Sheena, Zelos and Regal had buried the dead and washed away the blood from the horror of the previous night. Presea only wished vainly that they could do the same to her memory, but sadly magic did not work that way.

Now she was alone, sitting at Genis' bedside. She had been a stone, immovable and aloof. No words from Regal, Lloyd or Colette had been able to move her from her self-appointed position, and finally the tired swordsman had commanded them to leave her be. He understood well her grief and guilt, and he'd only reached out to squeeze her shoulder before leaving the room.

Part of her had wanted to go to him, in an attempt to try and explain herself but something chained her to Genis' side. She couldn't bear the thought of leaving him, even if for only a moment, and so she'd trusted her instincts and remained. She had watched as Raine made dozens of trips to the room to check on her brother's condition, change the bandages and apply more magic, but she'd never said a word. Once or twice she had thought of it, but something had stopped her from speaking.

She guessed it was the red circles that surrounded the professor's eyes that made her hesitate. In all of the months she had travelled alongside the group she had never once seen Raine show such violent emotion, but that hell had opened up a new side to the professor. After performing the emergency healing that would allow them enough time to move him to a better place and stem the blood until they could acquire more supplies, she had excused herself. When she'd returned her face was splotched red and tears still clouded her eyes but she had said nothing of it. No one else had dared to either.

In spite of that emotion, the professor hadn't laid blame on her. Presea wondered if it was what she wanted; to be held accountable. She certainly believed it was her fault, but no one else shared the sentiment and left her to be by Genis' side. Whether or not they thought it she didn't know, and she could only avoid their gazes and try her best to fight the tears back until they left.

He was safe, and would heal. She had been assured countless times of the fact, but still Presea's gut clenched and swirled in worry. She had no doubts of Raine's miraculous skills, she had been treated many a time when she herself was nearing death's door, but she still feared for him. Cool logic should have broken through her fragile emotions but for once they held strong and cut her argument to pieces. She was frightened, and there was no word in any tongue that would quell it.

Only the sight of Genis finally opening his eyes would remove any doubts or worries from her.

Presea let out a shaky breath, and she slowly pushed herself to her feet. She had been sitting for almost a full ten hours and her joints creaked in protest at her movement. She carefully stretched out her limbs to get her blood flowing again, and she glanced at the supply of bandages and gels that covered the bedside table. The collection was dropping, not dangerously so, but enough to qualify for restocking.

She moved slowly, regretfully, to the door and when her hand touched the knob she froze and found herself looking back. Genis slept on, oblivious to the war that was raging only a few feet from him, and Presea sighed in defeat. For him she would leave him, and she silently promised that she would return within minutes, if not seconds if she could muster the speed.

As she opened the door to venture into the house she was struck by its silence. She mused that considering what had happened there was no real atmosphere that coaxed conversation, but still she found it painfully empty. As she moved towards the cabinet where Altessa and Raine had set a wide array of medical supplies she noticed Regal sitting at the table with his hands extended before him. He was staring at the manacles that bound his wrists, and a dark sorrow was clouding his face.

With the gels and bandages in her hands Presea faltered as she made to return to Genis' bedside. The look on the man's face cut her deep, and she found herself moving away from the room and towards the nobleman instead. Her voice was shaky as she spoke words for the first time in what seemed like an eternity but the question left her regardless. "Are you alright, Regal?"

The man turned at the sound of her voice, and he nearly smiled when he saw her standing hesitantly a foot or so from his seat. He sighed tiredly and then shook his head in answer, but he elaborated in a pained tone, "I'm afraid not, Presea... I have begun to wonder if I have a use on this journey. With my hands bound... have I become a liability to my friends?"

"Lloyd would be very unhappy if he heard you saying such things." Presea stated with a frown tugging at her lips, and Regal chuckled at her words. The sound was hallow, bitter, and it sent a sharp stab of worry through the axeman. She set the supplies on the table and scolded him, "Regal, you are one of our companions. To call you a liability is foolhardy. Because of your shackles you knew where Kate was being held and how to save her. With your bound hands you still helped us escape the dungeons in Welgaia. There is a use for you, even if you refuse to admit it."

Regal cocked a single eyebrow at her rather uncharacteristic words, but after a moment of pause he understood. She had grown to follow Lloyd's idealism just as passionately as he had, even if she had a different way of showing it. She was only trying to tell him what she believed Lloyd would. He nodded his head at her wisdom and conceded his point to her. "Yes... I suppose you have an argument that even I cannot fight."

Presea allowed a the tiniest of smiles to quirk her lips at his grudging defeat, and then she cast a quick glance around the empty home. She only saw Regal and that worried her, and she turned to question him about the whereabouts of her friends. With the question on her lips she was beaten by his answer.

"Lloyd, Zelos, Colette and Sheena went to Flanoir to gather a handful of medical supplies at Raine's behest, while she went with Altessa to the Toize Valley Mine to acquire some items he needs to repair Tabitha." Regal answered her, and a rueful smile spread over his lips as he added on, "I was requested to remain behind in the off chance that Genis' condition worsens."

"I see..." Presea nodded weakly and she moved to sit on a chair that faced Regal over the table. It had been too long since she'd relaxed some, and with the door open she could still peer into Genis' room and soothe her nerves whenever she needed. She though had noted how reluctant Regal had been to mention Lloyd, and she pressed worriedly, "How is Lloyd, Regal...? He... didn't look so well when he came to see Genis..."

"Genis is his best friend. I think what happened came as a great shock... not to mention the fact that he just had to face the fact that Kratos is his father. He had much to absorb." Regal answered her with a shake of his head, and he raised his hands to rub wearily at his forehead. He continued on with a lopsided smile though when he saw Presea frown deeply in worry, "However Sheena managed to convince him to come with them to Flanoir instead of remaining here. She... might have been a bit aggressive in getting him to go, but it seemed to do the trick."

Presea bit the inside of her cheek at Regal's amusement, and she could very well imagine how Sheena managed to get Lloyd to leave. She had heard a mild bit of commotion earlier in the afternoon but she hadn't been sure of what it was. She was pretty certain now that it was likely the ninja all but shoving the reluctant swordsman out the door. "I'm glad..."

Regal paused as he remembered that Sheena had been ready to do the same to Presea, but Raine had quietly called her off. She'd insisted that the ninja attend to Lloyd instead and leave the axeman to watching Genis. Colette had quietly protested this, but Zelos had tugged gently on her arm and convinced her to leave it be. The foursome had left for Flanoir shortly afterwards, and Raine had gone with Altessa, leaving strict instructions for Regal to follow in her absence.

He had been impressed by Raine's willingness to leave her little brother in the hands of someone else when he was in such a perilous position. The professor had shown her love for Genis in a way he'd never seen when he had been injured, and he wondered if she felt Presea's guilt. It was likely that she did and it was why she allowed the pink-haired hunter to remain with him instead.

It had been something of a joke before, how Genis had been infatuated with a rather oblivious Presea. Now there was nothing to laugh at when it showed how honest the mage was with his feelings. There had been no time for logic and no room for thought. There had been only action and instinct, and Genis had moved to take the blow and defend the object of his affection despite what shock he had been in.

Regal doubted heavily that a joke would ever be made at Genis' expense ever again, and from the reaction he had seen Presea display... He also doubted that the axeman was completely oblivious now. Something had touched her in a way nothing else had, and though her understanding wasn't as blatant as it may have been in those of the infamous romances... She knew.

A flicker came to her eyes and she stood without a word and began hefting the supplies into her arms again. He recognized that grim look of determination, and he sat back as she made sure she had collected everything. As she excused herself and began to return to Genis' room, a small sad smile curled his lips upwards. She would dutifully attend to him for as long as it took for the feelings of guilt and apology to wane, and he had a feeling that even afterwards she would continue to remain at his side.

Presea closed the door behind her as she returned to Genis' side. She quickly lifted the sheet to make sure that the new bandaging swathing Genis' torso was clean, and when she saw nothing but white a relieved sigh escaped her. She returned the bedding to cover him and made a quiet fuss with arranging the supplies she had gathered. While her back was turned and her attention diverted she missed the quiet sigh and gentle stirring of the blankets.

A gentle touch on the end of her pigtail startled her from her work, and she spun around with her right hand moving to the dagger that she kept sheathed on her chest. The hand dropped when she spotted the cause of her alarm, and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw the mage she had been caring for awake. He was still lying down and his eyes were dark and hazy with fever and pain but a smile crossed his lips. He reached again and gently tugged on her pigtail and his voice was a happy mutter as he spoke to her.

"This is a nice dream..."

Presea wanted to smile at his sleepy voice and the obvious pleasure that saturated him when he woke to see her. The pain in her chest lessened just the tiniest bit, and she moved to sit at the edge of the bed while he contentedly played with the ends of her hair. No one had touched her with such gentleness before, and it bemused her to watch him as he continued on happily.

Raine had warned her that if he woke he wouldn't be lucid because of the amount of pure mana that was working its way through his system. What she hadn't said was how silly he would look because of the phantasmagoria the healing arts would subject him to.

She mused that he must be feeling only a numb sense of pain and fever because he was awkwardly sitting up and still playing with her hair. It seemed to fascinate him, and for the life of her she just couldn't pull away from him or try to make him sleep. She figured that soon the toll on his body would force him back to unconsciousness, and for now his actions were harmless.

"Y'know, I like this dream a lot." Genis said with a firm nod, and he spun a lock of her hair between his fingers before grinning at her. She hesitantly returned the gesture, and it was obvious how unpractised she was but the mage didn't acknowledge it. He dropped her hair and tilted his head to the side as he continued cheerfully, "It has you in it, after all. I like you the most." A look of horror descended over him the second the words were out, and he quickly shook his head and explained, "B-But don't tell Lloyd that! He'll get all jealous and stuff, cause I'm his best friend. Ooh, and don't tell Raine either, because she'd just get mad. A-And don't tell Regal, because I don't like how he looked at you, even if he doesn't like-like you the way I do. Or Zelos, because he's just an idiot. Then there's Sheena–"

She couldn't help it, but his drunken rambling had effectively triggered something she had thought was long dormant. A giggle escaped her lips and she shook her head as he continued to go over every member of the team and explain why his thoughts had to be kept a secret between the two of them. He was working himself up though as he explained why it was imperative no one was to know, and she lay a hand on his shoulder as she tried to indulge him through her smile, "I won't tell anyone about this dream, I promise."

The fervour vanished from his face, and it was instantly replaced with a contented smile at her promise. He leaned onto her shoulder and let out a happy sigh as he said, "Thank you, Presea. That makes me feel a lot better."

A strange feeling came over her at his closeness, and she felt her heart beginning to pick up speed inside of her chest. Her stomach knotted in a strangely pleasant but unpleasant way, and she could feel an uncomfortable warmth rising in her face. She awkwardly turned her face away from his and searched awkwardly for a response to those words.

'Wh-What in the world...? Raine, what did you do to your little brother...?'

She never got the chance to find a reply, or a change of topic, as a snore alerted her that he had fallen asleep on her while she had been thinking. She glanced over to see his eyes shut and that ridiculous smile still pulling at his lips. She chuckled once more, with fond exasperation, and then she carefully lay him back in the bed and pulled the sheets around him. She didn't move from where she sat though, and after a long beat of silence where she made certain that he wasn't going to awake and become strange again... She smiled.

"I liked this dream too, Genis."

AN:

... (is shot). I couldn't do it. I wanted to do a full-out angst about this, and be damned if I couldn't do it. I just got the idea of how a severe healing would affect the body, and woe and behold I decided it was like getting high. XD My thought process went like this: "The drugs used to trick your brain from feeling pain usually give you a sense of euphoria... would a healing designed to keep you from death's door do the same thing? Hmm... I could have fun with this." And I did. I had way too much fun.

Watching the scene where Altessa takes the bullet for her, (metaphorically) always made me wonder. Genis liked her and I always mused that it would have been... eerily appropriate if he had taken the blow instead of Altessa. Of course that would likely through the plot out the window, (not to mention our beloved snow scene in Flanoir) but... well, I couldn't help myself. It was an idea that refused to go away, (much like Kindred Strangers) and I wrote it all down in one sitting. Go me!

PS: I never had her say "I'm sorry" and the entire thing was meant to be about her apologizing to him once he woke up. Wow, Sky. Just wow.

~ Sky