Author:  The Wanlorn

Title: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky 29/?

Summary: I bite at summaries, so you're not getting one.

Rating: PG13 for language and stuff.

Spoilers: None that I know of.

Pairing: Eventually will touch upon all pairings I like.

Distribution: Ask and ye shall receive.

Disclaimer:  Jander and Laeral belong to WotC.  Nire, Tenebrae, and Azrael are mine.  No money is being made, this is purely for my amusement.

Thank Yous: Thanks to my beta, Kitrine.

Author's Note: I am bored.  And lonely.  I wish I had friends that lived in the same state as me.  I wish the friends who didn't had cars and money so they could come visit me.  I wish I could go to the mall to relieve my boredom.  I wish all my wishes would come true.  …it's not working…

Story Notes: I'm in a sappy mood.  Deal with it.

Italics denote emphasis or thoughts.  I trust you to be smart enough to figure out which ones.  Or book names and the like.

Italics denote telepathic speech.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

            "Hey, Laeral!" Nire called brightly across the people.  Although she could feel the fear in Jander, feel how tense he was, she did not loosen her grip on his wrist.  The moment she sensed the situation turning ugly, she'd let go.  In fact, she would even gate them both to safety.  But right now, she was going to make him face this particular fear.

            "Good evening Nire, Jander."  Laeral smiled warmly as she made her way through the people on the wide sidewalk.  She could see how terrified the vampire was, his eyes darting around like a cornered animal.  It was quite humorous that Nire was actually holding him in place.

            As soon as Laeral got close to Nire and Jander, the puppy woke up and wiggled out of Nire's arms.  It bristled at her feet, growling at Laeral.  The powerful mage had the sense to stop moving until Nire picked up the pup.

            "Knock it off, you little rascal."  The puppy's rumblings subsided as Nire spoke, obviously deciding this person must be okay.

            "What a beautiful puppy!" Laeral exclaimed as she moved closer.  "What's its name?"

            "Her," Nire informed, moving her grip to Jander's hand and squeezing reassuringly.  She could actually feel his hand trembling ever so slightly.  "And she doesn't have a name yet.  I just got her tonight."

            "A puppy as beautiful as this one needs a name."  Reaching out carefully in case it snapped at her, Laeral scratched the puppy's ears, receiving a warm lick in return.  "What kind of dog is she?"

            "Three quarters wolf, the rest I'm assuming is a mix of whatever.'

            Laeral laughed.  "So you've basically got a wolf pup here.  She certainly looks it."  Now, the powerful mage turned her attention to the vampire, attempting to put him at ease.  "Let me guess.  She talked you into letting her get a dog by promising to feed it and walk it every day?"

            She had no quarrel with the vampire, not any more.  Yes, there were her fears and suspicions, shared by her husband, that the vampire had done something to Nire.  But the look of abject terror in his eyes put her fears to rest.  The preteen was obviously quite fine, her ponytail revealing her clean neck quite clearly.  The fact that the vampire was allowing the child to hold him in place when he quite clearly wanted to flee said a lot about him.

            Forcing himself to speak through the thick taste of fear in his mouth, Jander answered, "Er… No, she didn't…"

            He had never been this afraid in his life.  Or his unlife.  Of course he trusted Nire not to make him stay somewhere that was dangerous to him.  But she could misjudge the situation.  A single word from the mage could turn the people walking around them to a crows, and a crown could easily become a mob.  A mob that would kill both he and Nire.  Then, there were the horrors the mage in front of him could wreak upon him.  Now that she knew he was a low-down vampire, she wouldn't grant him a painless death.

            "I don't make promises I don't intend to keep," Nire said to save Jander some discomfort.  She stepped slightly in front of him in a clearly protective gesture.  It wasn't lost on either adult.  It was difficult to hold Jander's hand and keep him slightly reassured while cradling the puppy in the other arm, since it wanted to watch Laeral.  But Nire managed it.

            "And children never do keep them, do they?" Laeral said with a wink.

            "No they don't," Nire laughed.  "Which is why I so seldom make them."

            With a smile to acknowledge the logic behind that, the lady mage finally commented, "We haven't seen you around in a while…"

            "Yeah, well, matters of life and death have kept me pretty preoccupied," was Nire's flippant reply.

            Judging from the look the flashed through the vampire's eyes, though, the words Nire used were closer to the truth than most would suspect.  Laeral had to wonder if he had a part in whatever had happened.

            "Oh?  What do you mean by that?"

            "Nothing important," Nire replied ambiguously.  "Why?"

            "Curiosity, and it sounded like it was something serious.  I hope both of you are all right," Laeral answered sincerely.

            "Oh, yeah, we are," Nire replied promptly, absently scratching the puppy's ears.

            Laeral seemed to look past them for a moment, then said, "Khelben and I would love it if we saw you more often.  Both of you," she added.

            "I'll keep that in mind!" Nire grinned and squeezed Jander's hand reassuringly once more.  "It appears that life has calmed down for the present and death remains elusive."

            The fleeting look that passed across Jander's face made that comment far more revealing to Laeral than Nire had intended.  The mage correctly surmised that the child had almost died, most likely due to an injury intentionally caused by her own hand.  Laeral knew that she had been right the first time she met the child.  This girl needed a family, needed parents.  Especially if her birth parents were anything like the way they appeared from reading between the lines of Nire's talk.

            "Seriously, Nire.  You're welcome any time.  Just show up at the door.  Well," she laughed, "the gate until one of us shows you how to find the door."

            This elicited a laugh from Nire, too.  "Ah, yes.  Danilo's told me a couple of his stories of expecting to run through the door and running headfirst into the wall instead."  She laughed once more.  "I'd pay to see that."

            "It's well worth your money." Laeral commented dryly.  "Promise that you will stop by sometime?"

            "Cross my heart and hope to die," Nire replied cheerfully, forgoing the accompanying motions.  "Can I bring my puppy?"

            "Of course.'

            "Can I drug Jander and bring him along?"

            Her eyes sparkling with mirth, Laeral met Jander's eyes as she answered.  "Of course you can.  Although I daresay he'd probably enjoy it more if he were conscious."

            "Oh, but that wouldn't be half as fun."

            Their banter was a mutual agreement, reached by an exchange of eye looks.  The purpose was to put Jander at ease, but it wasn't working.  He was becoming more uptight and tense by the minute, sure that this was going to escalate into disaster.  The fact that Nire was protecting and attempting to comfort him didn't help the matter.  She was the child in this situation, for crying out loud!  She shouldn't have to feel as though she needed to protect him like that.  Yet, he didn't do anything to counteract what she was doing.  He allowed her to stand slightly in front of him, to hold his hand and do all the talking.  It made him feel like dirt.

            "Anyways," Nire continued, "I've freaked him out enough for tonight.  It was nice seeing you again, and I'll probably drop by in a couple days.  With my puppy.  But without Jander."

            "Okay," Laeral laughed.  "I'll see you in a couple days then.  Have a good night!"

            "You too!" Nire called as they began to  move away from each other.

            "Nire?" Jander said in a strangled voice as soon as he was sure Laeral was gone.  "Can we please go home?  Please?  I'm begging you, let's go home."

            "Sure," she said amiably and led him to the nearest alley, still holding his hand reassuringly.  Within moments, they were back in Jander's room at the inn.  "Better?" she asked, setting the puppy down on the floor.  It began investigating its surroundings, tail waving in the air.

            Jander didn't answer her.  Instead, he sank down on the edge of his bed and clasped his hands between his knees.  They were shaking uncontrollably.  He couldn't make himself look at Nire, ashamed by his cowardice.  It was ironic.  He wanted to be dead, he deserved to be dead, he used to pray for something to kill him.  Yet… he was still terrified of death.  He was terrified of causing the deaths of his friends.

            "Hey hey hey,' Nire said softly as she sat down beside him.  This was where she was in her element, where it was okay to be close to someone.  Hurting people rarely hurt her.  "Take a deep breath, okay?  I wouldn't make you stay if she was going to kill you."  With one arm, she hugged him and left her arm there, rubbing his arm up and down soothingly.  "I scanned her intentions first, the instant I sensed she saw you.  She and Khelben both feel guilty as hell, 'specially her after stopping to talk to us today."

            "You don't understand," he tried to tell her, his voice wavering.

            "Yeah, I think I do.  But listen to me for a sec, okay?  Had things rapidly deteriorated, we could have both gotten out of there, make a gate and gone poof.  Never in any danger."

            That didn't reassure him.  "What if she had foreseen that and cast some sort of spell to prevent us from escaping?"

            Nire was patient with him, more so than she would have been with anyone else.  "Yes, that's a possibility.  But highly improbable.  Mainly because I'm almost completely certain it's impossible to do so.  The whole reason why Raistlin and I created our gate spells were so that we could escape from situations like that, should the need arise.  We tested them all strenuously."

            With a shuddering sigh, Jander buried his head in his shaking hands.  "But it's not one hundred percent certain," he moaned.  "My gods, Nire.  She could have killed us both in the blink of an eye."

            "Why are you so stubborn?" she asked in mournful rhetoric.  "Listen to me.  You can't go through your life, through the rest of forever, being afraid of those who know that you are a vampire.  Have I tried to kill you, yet?  No.  You and Raistlin have reached some sort of truce where you both are frightened of each other, but you can handle being in the same room without wigging out completely.  But he hasn't and won't try to kill you.  So why can't you accept that there are others like Raistlin and I?"

            Silence.  Jander didn't say a word.  There was logic behind what she said, he supposed.  It was possible; anything was possible, but highly unlikely.  Nire was rare, one-of-a-kind.  Raistlin was merely humoring her for a time.  He had no illusions about that.  The trembling that had clutched his body was subsiding so that it was now barely noticeable.

            "Okay," Nire said when he still didn't respond.  "You're not right, but I am sorry.  I had no right to do that.  Happy now?"

            "Ah, Nire," he sighed unhappily.  "Promise me you'll be careful?"

            "I will," she answered to reassure him.  Jander didn't catch the loophole she created by not specifically using the phrase, 'I promise'.

            The puppy began whining at their feet, so Nire bent down and scooped it up, depositing it on the bed.  No sooner did the four black paws touch the bedspread than it started growling at Jander.  In the miserable state he was in, he flinched from the sound.  Nire immediately began to scold the pup.

            "Knock it off.  Get over here."  She picked up the pup and sat it in her lap.  "This is Jander.  Smell 'im good."  In a remarkable coincidence, the pup began to sniff his arm up and down.  Then it crawled onto his lap and stood on its hind paws, two black forepaws firmly planted on his chest, and sniffed at his face.  "He's an okay guy, got it?  So stop growling at him."

            When the pup began to lick his face, Jander couldn't help but smile.  Maybe this little animal was smarter than he first thought; maybe it could understand what Nire was saying.  When the little wolf curled up in his lap, its bushy tail over its nose, his smile grew.

            "There," was Nire's verdict.  "Now you're friends."

            "Yes… I suppose…'

            "Oh, for Chris'sakes!  Be happy for once!"  She was grinning, though.  "She needs a cool name, ey?  Something appropriate for a puppy black as night, a little spot of darkness."

            "She's your puppy, what do you suggest?"

            "I'unno.  Something cool-sounding that means something neat.  Like… Tenebrae."

            The pup yipped at the same time that Jander said, "That does sound nice.  What does it mean?"

            "Uh… obscurity, blindness, night, darkness… A general term, I guess.  What do you think, pup?"  Another yip.  "Okey dokey, Tenebrae it is!"

            There was a soft knock on the door before it opened and Azrael came in, clearly bored.  As soon as the boy set foot in the room, Tenebrae jumped to the floor, growling.  She didn't try to attack, rather, stood halfway between Azrael and the two friends.

            "Tenebrae!  Knock it off.  He's Azrael - he's okay, too.  Got it?"  Tail wagging cautiously, Tenebrae moved forward and sniffed at Azrael's feet before sitting back and staring up at him, panting happily.

            "When'd you get a dog?" he asked.  "Can I pet her?"

            "Tonight and sure.  Her name's Tenebrae, in case you hadn't figured it out."

            He crouched down and started scratching the puppy's ears.  "You guys are back early."

            Uncertain of how to answer, Jander clanged at Nire.  He really needed to break this habit of relying on her to save him, to tell him how to respond without revealing too much.  But she was already opening her mouth.  "Yeah, I got kind of bored, and I wanted to bring Tenebrae back here to get used to the place, ya know?"

            "You're not taking her home with you?"

            "Hell no!  My parents would go ripshit!  Naw, she's staying with Jander during the day - don't even open your mouth, I said Jander - and I'll come take her at night whenever I'm not home.  Which means I'll be spending a whole hell of a lot of time here."

            "But why?" he whined as the pup trotted back to sit at Nire's feet.

            "Because she likes Jander better than you, kid.  Besides, Jander won't mind if I show up at random times during the day and night."

            Jander had to add his two cents in.  "Do you really want to wake up at all hours of the day to let her outside?"


            "Yeah, see?" Nire grinned.  Tenebrae whined and trotted over to the door, sitting expectantly and whining again.  "See?  I'll be back you guys."

            She disappeared out of the room, Tenebrae at her heels.  Once she was out of the door, Azrael sat on the floor by the bed, leaning back on his hands.

            "What'd you guys do?"

            "Bought a puppy," Jander responded with an air of hopeless amazement.

            "Uh… Can I ask you something?" The boy sounded unsure of himself and slightly nervous.  Great.

            "Sure," Jander responded.  Why not?  Let the questions about vampires roll!  Just add more to my misery.

            "Uh… well, if the dog-"

            "Wolf," Jander corrected.  "She's mostly wolf."

            "Right.  Well, if she has to go outside during the day…"

            "I can handle it for short periods of time.  Long enough."  That wasn't strictly true now. But the teenager didn't need to know that he was able to go outside during the day now.

            "Oh."  Silence.

            Then Nire came back, Tenebrae still at her side.  "Yeah.  She just stays with ya, so don't worry 'bout a leash when you take her out."

            She was carrying the two bowls stacked on top of each other.  Neither male could remember her taking them out of the room, but then again, the bag was dropped by the door.  When she put them down, they could see that one was filled with water, one with meat scraps.  Tenebrae immediately started gobbling the meat and lapping at the water.

            "The people in the kitchen think she's adorably," Nire informed them.  She flopped onto Jander's bed, clearly claiming it as hers until she went home.  "Smart pup.  She already knows that she's gotta make noise at the door when she has to piss 'n' shit."

            Azrael laughed and Jander rolled his eyes.  This wolf pup would be an interesting ingredient tossed into the mix.

*  *  *  *  *

            Much later that night, as the sun was cresting the horizon, Jander finally lay down on his bed.  Nire had left and Azrael was already in bed.  Now, Jander was about to go to sleep.  He heard a whine coming from beside the bed.  Peering over the side, he saw Tenebrae sitting there, looking up at him sadly.

            With a sigh, he reached down carefully to pick up the puppy, not sure how she would react.  Nire was gone, so all bets were off.  But the black pup happily allowed him to pick her up and put her on the bed.  Then she curled up next to him, her back snug against his side, and went to sleep.  Soon after, he fell asleep, too.

~~End Chapter Twenty-Nine~~