The tired scared travelers stopped. Before them among the dark forest was a stone cottage. It seemed to be in the center of a bright light, that glowed all around it. Josiah walked up to the gate leading into the yard.

He looked at each of his companions. "You must touch the gate as you pass and say ‘safe harbor’. Buck you must place Chris’ hand on the gate and speak for him." Turning Josiah lead the way. He placed his hand on the closed gate and said "Safe harbor" and the gate opened allowing him to enter. Then it closed.

Squaring his shoulders Ezra followed repeating Josiah’s exact actions and words. Each of the companions followed. Buck who was now carrying the unconscious Chris gently took his limp hand and placed it on the gate. "Safe harbor."

Once they were all in the yard Josiah opened the door to the cottage and allowed Buck to carry Chris inside. There, in the main room were cots waiting, with blankets. There was a fire laid in the fireplace and pans and buckets sitting on the table.

"Ezra, Ariel, we need water from the well, the first thing we must do is clean Chris up so I can see his wounds." Nathan ordered as Buck laid Chris down on the cot.

The walls of the cottage glowed with a soft light that enabled the worried men to see the true condition that Chris was in. His emaciated frame was covered with filth and scabs. The separate wounds were not discernable because of the layers of dirt.

"I’m afraid the water is quite cold Nathan." Ezra said as he re entered the cottage.

"Just put a little into that wash pan Ezra and we’ll heat the rest." Nathan said, digging out a rag to use to wash down Chris. But when Nathan dipped his hand into the water it was warm. "This ain’t cold Ezra, it’s just right for washing."

Wide eyes stared at the water; "I swear it was ice cold when it came from the well Nathan."

"This is an enchanted place, it appears the water will be the temperature that we need it to be." Josiah said.

Vin knelt down at the head of the bed, his hand tentatively touching his protector’s forehead. His small body shook with worry and something else. He tried to hide it from the others; they needed to concentrate on Chris.

Nathan gently washed Chris’ face trying to ignore the vacant green eyes. As he washed he paused and began the healing. Pausing over each hurt only long enough to start the healing process. There were too many for him to spend time to completely heal. Too many cuts, bruises, slashes from what looked like a knife or sword, burns, whip marks. There were raw marks from the chains around his wrists and ankles. Some were infected, some older and half healed already and some were new, today new. Every bone stuck out showing through the almost translucent skin. His breathing was almost non existent; the men watching feared each breath would be his last.

Finally after what seemed to be an eternity, an exhausted Nathan looked up at the rest of them. In a faltering voice he said. "I’ve done everything I can right now. He needs to stay warm, to eat if we can get him too…"

"Nathan, what about….when will he wake up." Buck asked hesitantly.

Nathan shook his head, "I don’t know Buck. I just don’t know."

Jaydee came in from outside, "Look Buck, st’rwberries, and grapes." The men turned and looked at the little boy.

"Where’d you get the basket, Little Bit?"

"It was outside in the back. There’s a big garden of things to eat, and plants that Nathan makes stuff out of. I brung you some, Nathan." Jaydee walked over to the slumped over healer and handed him a bundle of leaves.

Nathan looked at it and then raised bloodshot eyes to the boy. "Where did you get this Jaydee?"

"I told you, around back, out side. There’s bunches and bunches."

"What is it Nathan?" Buck asked.

"It’s called Immortal. A healing herb, the one healing herb that I really need right now, and being fresh it will be extremely strong…I…I need to make some tea." Nathan looked around and tried to stand but swayed. Josiah caught him.

"You must sit down my friend and rest. You’ve used much of your energy and you must replenish it. I will make the tea not only for Chris but for you."

"Thank you, Josiah. I am so tired." With that Nathan fell into Josiah’s arms. The rest of the men jump up helping Josiah lay Nathan down.

"I’m fine, I just got up too fast." Nathan protested.

"Sure you are. Just lie there and rest. We’ll call you if you’re needed."

Nathan smiled a tired smile and said. "Thank you Josiah." He stumbled to one of the other cots and lay down.

+ + + + + + +

Buck followed the excited Jaydee out side and around to the back of the cottage. There in neat rows were every vegetable and fruit imaginable. All at their peek ripeness.

"See Buck all my favorites." Jaydee said as he picked more of the ripe strawberries.

"I see Jaydee. Why don’t we pick some supper for everybody."

Jaydee tilted his head, saying, "Okay, but I don’t think Vin will eat. He’s too worried about Chris to eat."

"Well, maybe we can get him to eat a little." Buck knew Jaydee was right. Vin had refused to leave Chris’ side since the rescue. He had followed so close that Buck had sometimes feared stepping on the boy. Even after Nathan was finished and went to rest Vin still sat silent as stone one hand on Chris’s waiting.

+ + + + + + +

Peaceful sleep came to each of the companions after eating the best tasting meal that each could remember. Not surprisingly there were enough cots and pallets for the group. Jaydee curled up beside Buck, Josiah and Ezra slept next to each other. Nathan lay close to Chris and Ariel picked a corner by herself. Although Nathan had made Vin a bed, as soon as the others were asleep, Vin crept back to be beside Chris. His small hand continuously stroking the damp forehead as he sat by Chris’ head as he whispered "Chris, please wake up. Please come back to me."

The next morning a worried Nathan found Vin asleep beside the Ranger. Shaking his head he stoked the fire and put a kettle over the hot coals. Josiah soon joined him as they sat sipping a cup of tea.

"I’ve been thinking about what we must do for Chris?" Josiah said frowning at the tea.

Nathan nodded.

"There is a spell I can try. It’s dangerous and I’ve never seen any one who’s tried it before. I’ll need you to help me and to watch over my…my body as I try this."

"Just what is it you’re going to be trying Josiah?"

"I think Chris has retreated into… I’m not even sure what to call it, but another ‘place’. Somewhere he was safe from Balsema, from the pain and torture they put him through. Some one must go and convince him it’s safe to come back. Save to come out of that place."

"You think you can do this."

Josiah looked at Nathan, "I don’t know." He said, and then added. "But I have to try."

Nathan nodded, "Alright. When?"

"Today. We need to get everyone out side. Occupied with something so they won’t disturb us. Especially Vin. I fear for the boy Nathan. I don’t know what will happen to him if Chris doesn’t get better."

"Because of the amulet?"

"Partly, but the magic of the amulet only amplifies the bond they have. Perhaps, with time this bond would have developed as strong anyway. But because of the amulet it has over powered them and sealed each fate with the other. I’m afraid, Nathan, that we will lose both of them despite what you can do as a healer."

Nathan swallowed and kept silent. There were times when saying nothing was the best.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was busy picking grapes. Nathan had told him that fruit juice would be good for Chris. That he could swallow the juice without trouble. So Vin was picking grapes, Jay Dee was picking peaches and Ariel and Ezra were picking apples. But Vin kept glancing over at Buck. Who wasn’t busy doing anything. He was just sitting, by the door. Vin picked another bunch. He looked at the sun on his hands. Nathan and Josiah have been in side with Chris a long time. What are they doing in there? Vin fell to his knees gasping and hugging his belly. The sudden pain was so bad. Chris?! They’re hurting Chris. With out thinking the little elf ran for the door and before Buck could react he was through it.

Josiah knelt before the sitting Chris. His eyes closed, chanting under his breath, hand splayed over Chris’ face.

"Nooooooooo!!" Vin cried as he ran to Josiah grabbing his hands and pulling him away from Chris. "No. Stop, your hurting him. Stop!!" The shear desperate force pulled Josiah’s hands enough to break contact.

Josiah collapsed crying out and covering his face. Nathan knelt by him. "Josiah?" But the mage had slipped into unconsciousness. As he tried to help Josiah he could hear Vin sobbing.

"Chris? Please Chris, it’s okay. They won’t hurt you again. I promise, please Chris stop."

Nathan glanced over at the sobbing boy to see the formerly pliant Chris banging against the wall with his fists and head. Vin was trying desperately to stop him; finally Vin wrapped his own body around Chris holding his head so that it was himself that was hitting the wall not Chris. Vin grunted each time he hit the wall but he refused to let go.

"Buck!" Nathan screamed. "Get in here and stop this."

Buck ran inside and not stopping grabbed Chris holding him until he became still and pliant again. "Vin, are you alright?"

"They were hurting him. How could you? You’re supposed to be his friends? How could you hurt him?" Vin reached out for Chris wiping the trickle of blood that ran down his forehead.

Nathan turned his attention to Josiah sweeping his body looking for injuries. "Vin, we were just trying to help Chris. Josiah was trying to go where Chris is and bring him back."

"No. You hurt him." Vin tried to peel Buck arms away from Chris. "Get away from him."

Unable to budge Buck’s hold, Vin sobbing, pounded Buck with his fists. "Get..away.. You aren’t his friend. You just want to hurt him."

Buck loosened one arm and reached out for Vin. "Hey, Vin, that’s not true. You know it’s not." He reached out for Vin but the boy dodged his hand. Looking up his eyes widened.

Buck stopped, "What? Vin?" Then he looked at what Vin was looking at. He turned his head and gasped. Chris was crying, tears running down his face as they were down Vin’s. Yet Chris’ face was completely blank. There was no emotion behind the tears they just fell.

Nathan shook his friend. "Josiah! You got to wake up. JOSIAH!"

Josiah groaned and raising a hand to his aching head he asked. "What happened?"


"VIN?" Josiah looked around and closed his eyes again. "Damn. I didn’t think of that."

"You didn’t think of what? Josiah what is going on?"

"It’s the bond the amulet accentuated. What one feels the other feels. Right now Chris is simply reacting. There’s no conscious thought behind it." Crawling over to Vin, Josiah reached out and took the boy in his arm. "Vin, you need to calm down. You need to believe that everything is okay. That it’s all going to be okay."

Vin looked from Chris to Josiah and back to Chris. "I’m making him do that?"

"Yes, in a way."

Vin sniffed and made a real effort to calm his breathing. "I’m fine. Every thing is fine."

Chris seemed to be calming. He sat down hard and hugging himself started rocking. His eyes still blank and staring at nothing.

Vin twisted away from Josiah and moved closer to Chris. Reaching out he wiped Chris’ face. "It’s alright Chris. I’ll take care of you."

+ + + + + + +

The young wizard Ezra sat on the bench watching Jaydee pick sweet peas. Of course pick was the operative word, because more of the sweet vegetable went into Jaydee’s mouth than in the basket. Ezra smiled because this made his ‘chore’ of watching the young boy so much easier. Ezra stole a glance at Ariel. Every aspect of her being fascinated him, and way down deep he wondered what it would be like to kiss such beauty. Not that he’d kissed any girl before.

Ezra cleared his throat. "Lady Ariel, do you think your parents will arrive soon?"

Ariel looked at the human boy. He was kinda cute, for a human and he was a mage, well, a mage in the making. She smiled at him. "I don’t know. I suppose they will come when they have vanquished Lord Algedi. Do not worry they will come. My father is the bravest best warrior in all the world."

"Of course he is, dear Lady. It’s just that he and his band have taken on a daunting task."

"You and your mentor have taken on such a task have you not? Taking care of Jaydee. Keeping him safe and Vin also."

"Oh, I suppose so. That really has very little to do with me. Master Josiah has agreed to be my mentor and teacher. My Mother… felt it best to …. That is she felt it best that I have an experienced tutor in the ways of magic."

Ariel ducked her head and smiled. "She doesn’t like magic much?"

Ezra smiled, "No, not at all." He ducked his head.

Ariel shrugged, "Her loss. I think it’s wonderful that you’re learning from Master Josiah. He seems to be a very wise man."

"Yes. He is." Before Ariel could say more Jaydee came running over.

"Look Ezra, look what I found." Jaydee held out a small light green snake.

Ezra leaned away from the creature. "Yes, Master Dunne very nice."

Ariel reached out and ran a finger down the small snake's head. "He’s a very nice snake Jaydee. But you must put him back. He eats the insects that would ruin the fruit and vegetables. He has his job to do here."

Jaydee’s large brown eyes gazed in adoration at the elf girl. She not only was pretty, she was nice and she liked snakes. "Really? Okay, I’ll put him back." And the tiny boy turned and ran back to the garden.

Ezra stole a glance at the cottage. He felt the disturbance there, but his charge had been to keep Jaydee away and until they called him he felt the best way to do that was to stay where they were.

+ + + + + + +

It was late and they had finally gotten every one settled. Nathan felt good that they’d gotten some food down both Vin and Chris. Perhaps tomorrow it would be better. He watched Vin for awhile, and then drifted off to sleep.

Vin had again refused to leave Chris’ side. He sat at the head of the cot and his hand stroked Chris forehead. Suddenly mid stroke, Vin stiffened and with a small gasp

Vin was walking through a thick fog. This is where Chris is? "Chris?" He called. "Chris?" But no answer came. Still he walked feeling alone and lost in the indistinct landscape. After walking a ways he came to something that stopped him. Reaching out he touched solid air. Vin could not pass his hand through it. "Chris?"

Then he saw him. Crouched down, curled upm arms wrapped around legs and head. Softly Vin went closer, "Chris? Can you hear me?"

"Go away," came a small rough voice.

"No, Chris why are you here?"

Chris finally looked up. "Vin? You shouldn’t be here. This is my place."

"What is this place?"

"My place, my safe place. You look different, why?"

Vin frowned and looked down lifting his hands. They were not a child’s hands but a young man’s hands. He looked back a Chris. "I don’t know. This…this is a magic place.. a spirit place. It changes us, sometimes."

Chris cocked his head and smiled a small smile. "You’re grown. A man here."

"I guess. But Chris it ain’t real. I won’t become what you see before you if you don’t come back to us."

"No, I like it here. It don’t hurt here."

"No there’s no hurt, but there’s no joy either. That’s why there’s nothing but fog. Because this place is a nowhere place. You have to come back to me, to us."

"I can’t, I don’t know how to open the door…."

Nathan sat up fully awake knowing something was wrong. Looking around the room he saw Vin leaning over Chris, forehead touching forehead. "VIN!" He shouted and jumping up ran toward the boy, grabbing him and pulling him away from contact with Chris.

The boy was limp in his arms and he shook Vin. "Vin, wake up." Still there was no response to his call. Then Josiah was beside him.

"Nathan?" Josiah reached out to touch the boy and felt the unnatural stillness.

"I don’t know Josiah, he was bent over his head touching Chris. Now I can’t get him to wake up."

Josiah took the boy in his arms and holding him tightly closed his eyes. "Nathan don’t disturb me." He said before he started chanting.

Josiah looked around. He saw Chris and than he saw Vin standing beside him. At least he thought it was Vin. The elf beside him was a grown man. Tall and strong with light brown hair shoulder length with just a hint of curls, from his human half.

"Josiah what you doing here?"

"I came after you Vin. You must come back with me you can’t stay here."

"No not without Chris."

Josiah glanced again at the Ranger. He seemed to be listening to them. "Chris?"

"Go away Josiah and take Vin with you." Chris whispered.

"I would like to take both of you back." Josiah said gently.

"No. I like it here. This is better then the other place."

Josiah closed his eyes and gathered the stillness about him. Then looking at both Vin and Chris he spoke to both of them. "Vin you must go back, you have a destiny to fulfill. Your mother was right; you are to protect Jaydee so that he might do his work when he is grown. This won’t happen without you.

"Chris, you must strive to come back to us. Your fate and Vin’s are entwined and can not be separated now. There is a Quest for us, for the seven of us and it can not be done without you. We seven must be together or fail. Chris if you stay your body will die. And if you die the elf child will die also."

"No! You’re lying."

"I do not lie. Not about important things. The life of this child is important, as yours is." Josiah waited hoping that Chris would say more. When he didn’t Josiah said, "We will go now."

Vin and Josiah faded from Chris’ sight. Josiah didn’t see Chris reach out to them as they disappeared.

Nathan watched and waited. He hated just sitting there but had no idea what else to do. Finally with a large intake of air Josiah’s eyes opened.

The mage looked down at the boy he held. "Vin, wake now." He commanded.

Vin’s small body shivered and his eyes blinked open. Vin looked around puzzled and lost. He looked up at the mage. "J’siah, you came for me."

"Always Vin. I want you to drink some warm tea."

Vin looked at Josiah thinking. Giving Nathan time to get a cup for him. Vin took the cup and sipped. "Chris didn’t want to come back to us."

Josiah sadly smiled. "I know. But I hope he will when he remembers what’s important."

"What’s that, what’s important?" Vin asked.

"You are, Vin. Your important to Chris and to all of us."

"No, Jaydee’s the important one."

Josiah shook his head and said softly, "Jaydee is important it’s true. Not only to the world for what he is, but to Buck. We all love him, but you Vin are important to all of us too. YOU are especially important to Chris. I’ve watched you and Chris and I’ve known Chris a long time. He is not the same man he was before he found you. You Vin, brought sunlight back into his life. You coming into his life has changed him, made him live again. He will remember this and he will come back."

Vin looked at Josiah trying to believe him. How could he be important? He’s just a halfling. Nothing. For as long as he could remember he’d been told Jaydee was the important one. That he must protect Jaydee. His aunt had told him that over and over, that he was to protect Jaydee. He’d only been important for himself to his ma. Then she died. But…but Chris acted like he was worth something, Chris treated him like he was important. Maybe, just maybe, to Chris he was worth something, just because he was Vin.

Josiah watched the small boy ponder what he’d said. He’d wanted the boy to feel better, to believe him. But he hoped that what he’d said was true. That Chris needed the boy enough to struggle back to them. The mage hugged the little elf until he felt Vin relax and go to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood up and turned in a circle. He was looking for something. Then he saw it, the door he’d come though once. He reached for it and his hand touched it. It felt solid. Chris leaned against it, relishing it’s solid feel and it’s hardness.

Did he really want to go back? What if things were the same? What if it’d been a dream? Vin, the others, no they were real he knew it. Vin was real and he needed him. Chris needed Vin as much as Vin needed Chris. "Vin!" Chris called in his mind. "Vin I need you." Chris felt his heart would break if he didn’t find Vin.

The door started to open.

Chris opened his eyes. He didn’t know this place. He looked around and turning his head slightly he saw Josiah holding a sleeping Vin in his arms.

Chris rolled toward them and reached out. "Vin!" He whispered.

Josiah’s head jerked up and he saw Chris reaching. The boy in his arms twisted around and flew to the cot.

"Chris? Chris…." All the lost love of a small boy poured into that name. Vin reached out and touched lightly the man’s cheek.

With tears in his eyes Chris reached up and touched Vin’s cheek.

"You came back." Vin said with wonder. "You came back to me."

"Yes, for you." Chris affirmed.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah got up at quietly walked to the door of the cottage. "Nathan?" he called.


"Chris is awake."

Every one crowded around the door peeking in. But they all turned away and walked back to the garden, after seeing Chris and Vin together, oblivious to anyone else.

Buck went back to the bench under the tree. Jaydee climbed into his lap. "Chris waked up."

"Yep little one he sure did." Buck said with a smile.

"Can we go home now Buck? I want to go home now."

"Not yet Jaydee. We have to stay here for a while and then we can go home."

"Oh, we have to wait for Ariel’s daddy?"

"Yeah, we’re waiting for Ariel’s daddy." Buck smiled. Things were so simple when you were only five. Buck reached out and got a bunch of grapes. These were the best grapes he’d ever eaten. He handed one to Jaydee. Life was good, his friend was back.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah rose to greet the morning sun. He opened the door of the cottage quietly and went outside. There sitting on the grass just inside the gate sat the elf leader and his shield mate.

At his exit from the cottage the elves stood.

Josiah nodded and said "Naos."

"Master Josiah."

"All is well with your people?" Josiah asked.

"They are well, we came to get our daughter and to bring you news." Naos said stepping forward. "My daughter is well?"

Josiah smiled. "Ariel is sleeping and well. She’s a fine girl Naos, she should make you proud."

This time Naos smiled. "She does. And your leader, how does he fair?"

"He is healing."

"Perhaps my news will help. Lord Algedi is dead and his men scattered or dead. There will be no more trouble for you or the Everborn."

Josiah tried to keep the surprise from his voice. "You know of the Everborn?"

"Yes, all elf folk know of him. There are some that have even seen one or two. It is the duty of the elves to protect the Everborn when they can."

"I see. Would you care for some tea, I think perhaps Nathan brews some."

"Thank you."

Naos and Tishiya entered the cottage. Looking around the saw that most of the company was still asleep. They and Josiah quietly talked and sipped the warm tea waiting for the others to wake.

Chris heard strange voices. He lay still listening to the conversation not wanting to wake the small elf beside him. Vin lay curled on his side snuggled close to the Ranger.

"We would be happy to take the boys. It is our duty as I said to protect the Everborn and Vin belongs with his own kind. They would be safe with us. Vin would learn about his people. What can you offer him except a life ever on the move and constant danger? Can you shield him against the hate that the humans will have for his kind? I think not."

Josiah’s voice, "What you say is true. Vin does need to know about his elf half but he also needs to know about humans too. It is not my decision, but his and perhaps Chris’s. You have not seen them together, you do not understand, not that I do, the bond between this man and the boy. As for Jaydee, he will go nowhere without Vin. With us he can be just a little boy. He’ll have time to grow into his destiny with you it will always be there and he will be among a strange people that are not his own."

Tishiya spoke for the first time. "We would take the boys and make them our sons. They would not be outcasts with us. That we have Ariel is a blessing from Ehlonna. We would welcome sons to our campfire."

Chris could hear the longing and sincerity in her voice. It was the same longing he had in his heart when he thought of Adam. They are right. Vin should go with them. They would understand him better then anyone. They are his kind. Staying with us, with ME, will only put him in danger or get him killed. If he went with the elves he’d have a mother, father, sister and friends all like him. He’d be safe. He’d be happy. My life will be simpler without him. Chris continued to convince himself that it would be best for all if Vin and Jaydee went with the elves. Vin anyway, he wasn’t sure he could take the boy away from Buck. So with heart breaking resolve he began planning how he would convince Vin to go with the elves.

The thought of losing a second son made Chris squeeze Vin too hard. Vin twisted against the tight hold. "Chris," he whispered half asleep, "Not so hard."

Chris rubbed his chin in Vin’s hair. "Sorry pard, I didn’t mean to hold too tight."

Vin rolled over and looked up into Chris’s eyes. He smiled, "It’s okay. I kinda like you holding me tight."

The Ranger almost lost his resolve then. Looking into those blue adoring eyes. "Me too." He said the sadness slipping pass his defenses.

Vin reached up touching Chris’ cheek. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing, we need to get up. The elves are here."

Vin turned his head and saw Naos and Tishiya sitting at the table. "Naos!"

"Good Morning little Tannerae. How are you this day?" Naos said smiling at the little elf.

"I’m fine. Did you kill them."

"Yes, Tannerae we did."

"Good. They hurt Chris and they wanted to hurt Jaydee. Now they can’t."

"No, Tannerae they will not hurt anyone ever again."

Vin got up and stretching to loosen his back he walked over to the table. He gathered some of the fruit and took it back to Chris. Sitting down beside him Vin held out the plate. "Eat Chris. Nathan says you must eat to regain your strength."

Chris took the plate but didn’t eat. Instead he looked at the elf leader. "You are Naos, you and your people helped my friends. I thank you."

"There is no need to thank us. We also had reason to fight Lord Algedi. Besides you protect the Everborn and a halfling. Not many men would do this," the elf leader said with some caution.

Chris started peeling an orange as he talked. "I heard you say you would take care of the boy?"

"Yes, it would be an honor to have Vin in my home."

Chris continued to look at the orange separating the sections before he tasted one. "And Jaydee?"

"It would also be a great honor to have the Everborn under my protection."

"Perhaps that would be best. We shall see."

Vin sat still his heart racing. No Chris doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t want to get rid of me. He can’t. Why can’t I tell what he’s thinking or feeling? Why is he closed off to me all of a sudden?

Josiah sat back listening. Chris is up to something, but what? He rubbed his thumb under his lower lip. He studied Chris watching his body language. Chris is closing himself off. Why? He’s shutting down everything, just like before. Like he was after he lost Sara and Adam. What are you doing Christopher?

Later that afternoon

Josiah settled deeper into the comfortable chair beside the fire place. It wasn’t cold but the fire gave a homey comforting feeling to the room. The Mage sipped the fresh mint tea and watched the others.

The cottage was full of benevolent magic. No matter how many people were inside the room was just big enough to be cozy but with plenty of room to move about easily.

Young Ezra and Ariel sat together in one corner a chest board between them. Leaning close they talked and played and smiled shyly at each other.

Buck, Naos, and Tishiya sat talking at the table with frequent interruptions from Jaydee. His five year old’s extensive babbling about anything and everything kept the adults laughing. Tishiya was clearly enchanted with the small boy.

Buck was clearly fascinated with the halflings and the way they had banded together. Making their own alliance rather then living on the fringes of either human or elf society.

Having a ‘camp follower’ for a mother had left him often on the outside looking in and he admired Naos for what he was attempting.

Chris sat leaning against the wall. Vin lay curled up beside him, his head resting on Chris’ leg. Chris’s hand lay on Vin’s arm, each drawing strength from the other.

Josiah smiled as both sets of eyes began to droop and relax. Josiah watched as Vin drifted off to sleep one hand holding onto Chris’ pants leg. Chris’ head leaned back against the wall as he fell asleep also, his features relaxing as he slept. Good, they need all the healing sleep they can get.

Josiah watched still, despite the feeling of peace the cottage reinforced Josiah felt a tension from Chris. He was wrestling with something. But what Josiah couldn’t tell.

Vin’s restless movements woke Chris who leaned down and whispered. "It’s okay Vin. You’re safe."

At the sound of Chris’s voice Vin settled and sighed in his sleep, "Chris."

Chris reached out and stroked Vin’s fine curls. His head falling back against the wall a look of such anguish flashed across his face. It was gone almost instantly but Josiah saw it.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning found the elves preparing to leave. Chris took Vin outside and around to the back so that he could talk to him alone. He sat down and pulled Vin close to him.

Vin stood in front of Chris between his legs. His heart began beating faster. He didn’t want to do this. Chris was going to say something he didn’t want to hear. He just knew it.

Chris took a deep breath. "Vin…Vin, Naos and I have been talking. He and Tishiya want to take you and Jaydee with them. They…we think it would be better if you and Jaydee lived with them. Jaydee would be much safer with elves and you would learn from them. Learn about elf things we could never teach you.

"Buck and I’ve decided it’s the best thing for all concerned. You and Jaydee can grow up in the safety of the enchanted forest with elves. Buck and I can go back to being full time Rangers. Because we won’t have your and Jaydee’s safety to worry about." Chris crossed his arms.

Vin just stood very still. I’ve done something wrong. Chris doesn’t want me anymore. We’re too much trouble. He wants to get rid of us.

Vin raised his chin. "Fine. I’ll get Jaydee." He turned and avoiding touching Chris walked stiffly away.

Chris looked up at the watching Naos and nodded. Then he got up and walked to the far end of the garden. He joined Buck placing a hand on the big man’s shoulder. Gripping it as heard Jaydee cry. "It’s for the best Buck."

Tears ran down Bucks face. "If you say so Chris, but I don’t for a minute believe it."

Vin watched Chris walk away and resolved not to let anyone see him cry. He walked back to the front of the cottage and found Jaydee. Going up to him, Vin held his cousin close. "Listen Jaydee we’re going to stay with Naos for awhile. You always wanted to stay with elves remember?"

Jaydee sniffed. "Yeah, I remember. But I want Buck."

"I know Jaydee. But, we need to go with Ariel and Tishiya and Naos for awhile."

"But I want Buck." Jaydee wailed.

Vin hugged tighter. "Shhh Jaydee. Don’t cry. It ain’t up to us. We have to do what the grown ups want." Vin paused and added. "We have to be brave."

He led the crying Jaydee to the elves. Tishiya picked the boy up and holding him close walked out of the gate. Jaydee laid his head on her shoulder and continued to cry.

Naos looked at the small halfling raising an eyebrow. But Vin shook his head and stiffly walked behind Tishiya. His face tight with unshed tears. I’m Vin Tannerae a warrior elf. I don’t cry. I don’t need humans. He couldn’t, wouldn’t say Chris’s name. That would break what little control he had.

Ariel looked sadly back at Ezra and waved. The young wizard waved back. He was angry, as angry as he’d ever been. And underneath the anger was fear.

As they disappeared in the trees Chris and Buck joined the others. Ezra turned on them and through gritted teeth hissed. "How could you sir? How could you just send them away?" Then he turned to Josiah. "Am I to be next Master Josiah? Will you toss me away at the next convenient time?"

"Never Ezra." Josiah vowed.

"I’m sure you think you mean that, but you’ll pardon me if I remain a bit skeptical. THEY didn’t seem to have any trouble dumping the boys like unwanted refuse." With a swirl of his robes Ezra went into the cottage and threw himself on his corner cot.

The uncomfortable adults stood in silence.

Josiah cleared his throat. "I’m sure you feel you did what is right…"Josiah began.

Chris glared at him. "You don’t know anything about it." Chris said cutting him off.

Buck just stood looking down the path the elves had taken. He wore his heart on his sleeve and right now the rogue’s heart was breaking. He wanted nothing more then to go after them, but he’d pledged himself to Chris many years ago and he could not break that pledge.

Josiah sighed. No amount of magic could heal all the misguided pain that had been released. It seemed everyone was unhappy and hurting. The boys especially but no more then the Rangers that had grown to love them. He could only hope that Chris would come to his senses and return for the boys before it was to late.

Chris shouldered his pack. "Well? Day lights burning. Let’s go. Josiah, get Ezra." Without looking back Chris left the safety of the "Safe Harbor" and started walking down the other path.

Nathan looked with concern at his friends. It’s too soon. This is NOT good. They haven’t healed enough. It would be better to stay here another day or two. But despite his misgivings he shouldered his pack and followed Chris. He knew that Chris and Buck couldn’t stay there another minute. Despite the peace the cottage bestowed, the anguish of loosing the boys would hang over them. At least if they were moving, they didn’t have to think of them.

+ + + + + + +

Chris knew he was getting a fever but he kept pushing himself. It was still a couple of hours until dark. He could keep going, he had to keep going the misery of his body helped him ignore the misery in his heart.

After the third time Chris stumbled and almost fell Nathan called a halt. "I think we’ve gone far enough today. Chris sit down before you fall down."

Chris simply sank down to the ground. He was so cold his teeth almost chattered. He was barely aware of Nathan feeling his forehead and he couldn’t quite keep up with the talk around him. Why was it so cold?

"Gods he’s burning up. Lay him down and Buck you lay down beside him. He’s getting a chill despite the fever and he needs to get warm. Ezra you lay down on his other side. Your body heat will help warm him until I can make something hot for him to drink. I knew it was too soon to leave. I knew he needed more rest." Nathan continued mumbling to himself as Josiah started a fire. He took every blanket they had and covered the three up.

"I know it’s gonna be real hot on you two but we gotta warm Chris up and break the fever."

Nathan forced cup after cup of tea down the unresponsive Chris. One time he was trying to kick off the blankets because he was so hot and the next moment he was curling up his teeth chattering because he was so cold.

Finally just before dawn the fever seemed to break and he slept. Not peacefully but full of dreams. Unhappy dreams from the look on his face, but there was nothing any of the weary men could do.

Ezra looked at Josiah, Buck and Nathan. "He rests now. You three must also rest. I will keep watch."

"Thank you Ezra." Josiah said. It was the first time Ezra had spoken. He hoped the boy was beginning to forgive them. Josiah knew it was wrong to give the boys away. He also knew this was something that Chris must discover for himself. He must decide to get the boys back. But the stubborn fool too often ignored his own heart. There was only the hope that Chris would come to his senses and come to know that they were meant to be together.

+ + + + + + +

Jaydee woke up and looked over Tishiya’s shoulder. Vin was walking behind them. Jaydee watched for a few steps and then lifted himself away from her. Looking Tishiya in the eye he said. "We have to stop now. Vin’s back is hurtin’ him bad."

Tishiya gave the boy a puzzled look and then looked back at Vin. Her movement catching Vin by surprise, so that she saw clearly the pain the boy was in. "Naos, we must stop for a bit. We all need to rest." She set Jaydee down and watched as he went to his cousin.

"Lay down Vin an’ I’ll rub your back for you." Jaydee said as he spread his cloak on the ground.

Vin sank gratefully down while saying "I’m fine."

"No you ain’t. I can see that. I’ll rub your back and then you’ll be fine." Jaydee kneeled beside the boy as he lay down. "Where’s your brace? The one Chris made for you?"

"I don’t know, in my pack I guess. I don’t want it no more."

Jaydee’s small hands began to knead the sore muscles in Vin’s back. "You need it. It helps your back." He rubbed, leaning into it ignoring the groans and grunts that his ministrations brought.

Naos sat down and watched the two boys. Looking up when his daughter came over he patted the ground beside him.

"Papa? We need to talk." Ariel said as she sat down.

Naos smiled at his daughter. "What is it Ariel?"

"Papa, it was wrong for us to take the boys. They belong with the others. They… together they have a special magic."

"It was just the magic of the Safe Harbor you were feeling."

"No Papa, it wasn’t that. I felt it before we got to Safe Harbor. There is a magic between the seven and it must not be broken. You should not have agreed to this. We must take them back."

"I don’t know if we can do that Ariel. The leader, Chris, he made a great sacrifice to push the boy away. I’m not sure they can recover from that."

"They must Papa. I….I think I had a vision, about the seven. Papa they must be together."

"When did this happen Ariel? You’ve never done this before have you?" Naos asked concerned because Ariel was so young.

Ariel shook her head, "Never before Papa. It was just a flash," Ariel looked away "They were fighting, it was a mighty battle, but they were all together. Vin and Jaydee were grown, or almost grown and Ezra was a man. They were all back to back protecting each other. I can’t explain. I don’t know what it was, but they all have to be together in order to win.

Papa? I don’t much like having visions. They’re scary and I …" Ariel leaned against her father. " I just don’t want to have anymore."

Naos reached out and drew his daughter into a hug. "I know Daughter. But if this is you gift, then we must accept it and Praise Ehlonna for it. But you are young and have time to grow into your gift. We will work it out together."

Ariel laid her head on her father’s chest. "I know Papa. But we must help Vin and Jaydee first."

"Yes, I think you’re right. Tomorrow, there is a cross road that will lead us to the way the Rangers went. We will take it and meet the others along the way."

Jaydee lay curled up next to Vin. He’d quietly cried himself out and finally he slept. But he kept calling in his sleep. "Buck. I want Buck."

Vin rolled over and wrapped his arms around his littler cousin. Tears finally fell as he whispered, "I know Jaydee. I want Chris too."

+ + + + + + +

Naos watched the two boys sleep. He wanted to keep them. To make them his sons but it wasn’t to be. These boys were someone else’s and he knew that now. His own feeling of ‘wrongness’ combined with what Ariel had said convinced him that he must somehow return the boys to the Rangers.

Hearing them cry softly in their sleep had distressed Tishiya and she quietly agreed with him. They must find the Rangers and right what was so very wrong. He had warned Ariel not to say anything about her vision to the boys. It was given to guide him and he didn’t want to interfere with whatever future the seven had.

"Boys" he called softly. "It’s time to get up. We must go soon."

Vin rolled over and even Naos unpracticed eye could see the boy was having trouble. "Vin, we are in unprotected forest now. Did I hear Jaydee say something about you having some body armor? It would be wise for a warrior to prepare for battle even if there is none."

Vin hung his head and nodded, pulling out the leather jerkin that Chris had made for him. Its original purpose was protection in battle but it had a second more immediate use. That of bracing the little elf’s damaged back. He wore it most of the time but after yesterday it only served to remind him of Chris and he’d left it in his pack. Holding it in his hands brought back a flood of sadness and it was all he could do not to cry.

"Come little Tannerae I shall help you lace it up. Then we eat before we go."

Vin unresisting did as Naos said. He tried to eat but only managed to chock down a few bites. Even the exuberant Jaydee was subdued.

They walked for a good hour and then turned off the main road and started down the cross road. Another hour and they turned again. This time Vin looked at Naos curiously. They were going back in the direction of the cottage but by a different road.

Vin felt a tightness in his chest. With each step they were getting closer and closer to Chris. But how could that be? There was something wrong with Chris. He could feel that too. He wanted to run, but he kept walking behind Naos.

+ + + + + + +

Chris rolled over and tried to sit up. He felt awful, stiff and sore and there was a bad taste in his mouth. Looking around for water to wash his mouth out with he saw Ezra sitting on the other side of camp. The others slept and the sun was high in the sky.

Groaning as he managed to sit, he reached for the skin of water and took a long drink. He vaguely remembered Nathan forcing tea down him until he though he would explode. Frowning he remembered being hot and cold, but mostly he remembered searching for something. What was it he had been searching for? Shaking his head he tried to remember. Something he’d lost?

Ezra saw Chris move and said, "Master Larabee, are you hungry? You ate nothing last night. We have fruit and bread and some cheese."

"Thanks Ezra, but I’m not too hungry right now."

"Nathan insisted that when you woke you eat. But suit yourself." Ezra’s voice still edged with anger.

Chris sighed and rubbed his face. His head hurt and he didn’t want to do this. "Ezra I did what I though would be best for the boys. I don’t have to explain myself to you."

"Why because I’m another BOY. You sir have caused more harm then you care to admit. You have managed to make all of us miserable and have done what that bastard lord couldn’t do. You have separated the seven of us most efficiently. Shall we all go our own way now? Can you not see the heart agony that your supposed friend is going though because of your ‘noble’ gesture. Or are you so wrapped up in your own self pity that you can’t see beyond your own nose."

"You boy have no right to talk to me that way."

"Yes I do. You gave me that right when we joined company. Think on it Chris, you are not a stupid man. Even you should be able to see that without the other two of our company we are not whole."

Chris closed his eyes against the pain in his head as well as the cutting words from the young wizard. "Shut up Ezra. You don’t understand. I only want them safe. I thought they would be safe with the elves. We, we are always traveling, fighting. It’s what we do. It’s no place for young boys."

"Perhaps ordinary boys, but Jaydee and Vin are not ordinary. They are both very special. They both have a destiny to fulfill. I do not think this can be done if they stay with the elves."

Chris rubbed his temple trying to shut out Ezra’s intrusive words. But it didn’t work. And his head hurt even worse. His chest hurt too, deep inside it felt as if he had a huge rock laid on it. He couldn’t take a full breath. The overpowering feeling he remembered from the night came back. He’d lost something; he had to find it again. But what?

Chris slumped over his eyes squeezed closed rubbing his temples. Then suddenly he felt cool small hands rubbing the pain away. Chris opened his eyes and arms’ outstretched touching him was Vin. Chris felt the heaviness leave, the pain in his head left too. He reached out to the small elf, "Vin!" He whispered. Chris pulled the boy into a hug. "Oh Vin." And he knew, he’d found what he’d lost.

"Don’t send me away again please Chris." The small tearstained voice spoke in his ear.

"Never. Never again." Chris squeezed once more and then pulled back so he could look Vin in the eye. "I thought it would be best. I was wrong. I need you little elf. We all need you and Buck needs Jaydee." Chris looked up at Naos, "Thank you, for bringing them back."

"It is meant to be." Naos said and pointed with his chin. "The Everborn needs a strong loving protector as does Vin Tannerae. You, have won the place in his heart as has Buck in Jaydee’s. My daughter saw it in a vision, the seven are meant to be."

Chris turned and looked.

Jaydee was sitting beside the sleeping Buck. His tiny hand patting the big man’s face as he muttered, "Buck, I’s back wakes up Buck. I love you Buck."

Buck frowned something kept patting his face. He opened his eyes and all he could see were two tear filled brown eyes. "Jaydee?" Sitting up very fast Buck grabbed the boy in a bear hug. "Woo hooo,!! You are a sight for sore eyes."

Jaydee giggled and flung his arms around Buck’s neck. "You too Buck, but my eyes ain’t sore."

Chris turned back to Vin. The boy cocked his head. "You’ve been sick again."

"Yes, I’m better now."

"Me too."

+ + + + + + +

"Will you not stay a time longer with is Naos?" Josiah asked as the elf leader shouldered his pack.

"I can not. My people will be looking for me. Our little detour has made us late."

"Might we visit you and your people sometime?"

"I would like that Master Josiah, I would like that very much." Calling out "Ariel we must go now."

"Farewell Christopher of Larabee. The path you have is not an easy one but I think it will be an interesting one full of magnificent companions."

"Yes. I think so also. We thank you for all you’ve done for us Naos." Chris said as he offered his arm to Naos.

Naos nodded, taking the arm. After a pause he called again. "Ariel."

Ariel looked down at the hand she was holding. "I have to go now."

Ezra squeezed her hand. "I know."

"Perhaps we shall see each other again, soon." Ariel added hopefully.

"Perhaps, Fair Lady."

Ariel smiled and leaning forward and gently but thoroughly kissed the astonished youth. Then smiling at him again she turned and ran to her parents. "We shall see each other again young Ezra, of that you can be sure."

Jaydee watch with is mouth open as the elves left. "Ewwww, she kissed Ezra."

Buck smiled down at his small charge. "Hush little bit, if you’re lucky someday a beautiful elf just might kiss you."

Jaydee shook his head. "No way, ewww."

But Ezra didn’t hear him. Ezra was smiling too, his fingers brushing where Ariel’s lips had touched.

Vin turned to Chris, looking up he asked. "Can we go home now?"

Chris glanced down at Vin and then to Josiah who gave the slightest nod.

Smiling Chris nodded, "Yes, now we can go home."