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Prologue
by Neilast


The sound of some commotion in Rolf's bedroom was what woke me from a troubled and rather unrestful sleep. I sat up and opened my eyes to find that it was still dark in my room. I knew it had to be the middle of the night. The clock confirmed my suspicions. For a moment I just sat there and considered whether or not I should go and check in on Rolf. I didn't want to make him, or myself, for that matter, feel uncomfortable, and I wasn't sure if walking in on him in the middle of the night would do that or not. But then I remembered the nightmares he had been having, and I decided that looking in on him would probably be the best thing to do.

I got out of bed quickly and grabbed my carbonrobe and slippers. My nei senses enabled me to find what I was looking for and walk quickly from room to room without crashing into anything. But then I thought that maybe I should crash into something, to let Rolf know that I was coming. But then I realized that I was being a little ridiculous and hurried to his bedroom.

The door to the room was open, so I peeked inside. The light was off, and there was nearly total darkness in Rolf's room. It was too dark for even me to see clearly. But I could hear Rolf's breathing, and it was not the rhythmic, predictable breathing of one who is asleep.

"Rolf?" I asked, uncertainly.

"Nei?" I heard him say wearily somewhere in the dark. "Is something wrong?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing." There was a long, uncomfortable silence. "May I come in?"

"Of course," he answered hurriedly. I could hear him moving over to one side of the bed. For a moment I debated whether it would be better to actually sit next to him in the bed or to instead sit down on the couch. But then I heard him sigh, and it was the shaky, raspy sigh of one who is rather upset, and I couldn't bear the thought of him being alone. I sat on the edge of the bed. I could see him then. He was sitting up, too, with his lower body still beneath the covers. I felt my face turn red as I remembered that Rolf always slept nude. I was grateful that he couldn't see me blush.

He had been staring out the window, but when I sat down he turned and looked at me.

"Did you have another nightmare?" I asked him.

He just nodded.

Cautiously, I scooted closer. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"There's not much to talk about," he said in a hoarse whisper. "It was the same dream I keep having. You know, the one with a girl fighting a monster. And every time I wake up, I...I just get this horrible feeling..." His face fell into his hands.

I crept beside Rolf and I put my arm around him. He put his head on my shoulder, and I could smell the shampoo he used and a trace of cologne from the day before.

"Oh, Nei," he whispered. "What's going on with me?"

He touched my hand and I realized that I had been stroking his face. With how hard he worked every day, I wondered how his hands could remain so soft. He shifted then, and I could tell his mind had suddenly lept to a different track.

"Nei," he said, louder and suddenly stronger than before.

I froze, and it was only after a few tense seconds that I could croak out, "Yes?"

He sat up straight. Even in the dark, I could feel his eyes drilling deep into me. "Why did you come in here?"

I started to sweat. With difficulty I answered, "Well, I, I heard you milling about in here, and I remembered the nightmares you've been having lately, and I thought that-- "

"Nei." His voice was soft, reassuring. "Why did you really come in here?"

I turned away, now profoundly blushing. "Rolf, I, I just told you why."

His arm was around me, and he was gently stroking my right ear. "It's okay, Nei," he whispered. "I know."

"Know what?"

"You know what."

And I did. And I had known for a very long time, much longer than Rolf ever could have. I had known that very first day, when I was still small and had the body of a child and the mind of an animal. I knew the first time I saw him, when he stepped between me and a mob of rock-throwing townspeople on the streets of Paseo. There had been something about him that told me that I had a friend in Rolf, and that I could trust him, even before I could fully understand what trust and friendship were. I was suddenly flooded with memories of those first few weeks. I had slept in Rolf's own bed then, curled up beside him in fuzzy pajamas like a frightened animal totally dependent on its master. And as my mind grew and came to be like that of a normal girl, I came to see Rolf first as a father, and then as a brother. And then there was one night, when I had been with Rolf for many months, that I stared at him as he slept, this naked man who was all I had ever known and loved, and the love I felt for him became something different, and I couldn't stay in that room anymore for fear of what might happen. Rolf was happy then, and he said it was because he knew I was growing up. If only he'd known how much.

But he had finally come to see it. And although I had known my feelings long ago, it was somehow Rolf who was the better prepared. As much as I loved him, and as much as I did want him, I knew that there was a part of me that was still and would always be an animal, and that that would never allow me to be any more than a biomonster, and therefore not good enough for Rolf. I didn't dare explain this to him, but I sensed and felt and knew it nonetheless, and that was why I moved away from him and sat alone on the edge of his bed.

I knew he would be confused, and hurt, and I felt even worse since my whole intention had been to comfort him.

He just sat there, still and silent, for a long moment, before finally he asked me, "Nei, what's the matter?"

When I didn't answer immediately he asked, "Was I wrong? Oh, Nei, I'm so sorry."

"Rolf, it--"

"I'm so, so sorry..."

"Rolf, it's...It's okay. Really."

I turned and looked at him again. He was still sitting there, his face now illuminated by the lights of the unrestful city. He was so beautiful to me then, and I knew that he was thinking about how beautiful I was to him, too.

"You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow," I said, standing up and gathering my robe tighter around me. "I'm sure the Governor is going to have some tremendously important task for you to handle. It has to be important, if he's going to call in his best agent."

I heard Rolf laugh faintly as I walked over to him. He looked up at me, and I looked down at him, and something precious and better left unsaid passed between us. Maybe he did know how I felt. Maybe he had known, all along.

I kissed him on the forehead and gave him a smile, which he returned. Then I gently eased him back down onto his bed, covered him with the carbonsheet, and told him good night. I sat there and watched him until he fell asleep, like he used to do for me those first nights when I found myself in a stranger's home. And as I myself drifted off to sleep, I decided that Rolf would not journey alone, tomorrow or ever, and I wondered how I could ever possibly repay him.

Fin.

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