Ashes of Fate, Season 1

by Cynus

Episode 9

Courage

Changing the bandage was easy, but thinking was not. Peter went through the process mechanically, avoiding Hayden's eyes as much as he could. With the technology in the medical bay, Hayden had been recovering very quickly, and it was only a matter of time before he'd be walking normally. Ethan had recovered completely a couple days before, and Micah was already up to full health. Soon there would be no need for Peter's skills, and they'd all be back to their normal lives.

Soon. The word reverberated through his mind like a promise, and it was one he would not give up on easily. He wanted nothing more than for that 'soon' to come sooner, but he wasn't going to shirk on his duties before then. For the time being Hayden at least needed him, though by tomorrow the bullet wound in his leg was sure to be healed. And then it would be time.

"Hey, are you doing all right, Peter?" Hayden asked, showing a rare bit of concern. He was a hard ass, but he had his moments. Now his tone was almost fatherly… Peter didn't need a father, he had already disappointed two father figures and he didn't want another one. Still, it would be best if he answered.

"I'm fine." Yes, that ought to shut him up. Peter cursed in his mind as he continued speaking, hoping that he could override his obvious lack of emotion by providing additional information. "You should be fine by tomorrow, provided you continue to keep your weight off of it. Otherwise you might need another day."

"It's a shame you're so good of a doctor, I was hoping Luke and I would match," Hayden said with a grin, but Peter only winced at the remark. "Listen, Peter, you might want to take the next while off. We'll lay low and reduce our injuries, and I'm sure that Ethan can handle whatever happens."

Peter sighed in relief, hoping that the suggestion would be the end of Hayden's attempt at parenting. "Yes, that doesn't sound half bad. I might take a hike up the mountain and get some fresh air."

Hayden looked at him critically before clapping him on the shoulder and saying, "Now you're talking! I think you've got the right idea. Am I good to go, Doc?"

"Of course," Peter replied, and then helped Hayden off of the table before handing him his crutches. Hayden left the medical bay a moment later, leaving Peter alone with his thoughts. Soon had arrived.

He cleaned up the used bandages and disposed of them in the proper receptacle before returning to his room to gather the supplies he would need on the trail. Once his backpack was assembled and he had properly changed, he sat down at his desk to write out a quick note about where he was going and why. And then he left his room, casting one more glance into it as if he were searching for something hidden in plain sight. Not finding what he was looking for, he closed his door quietly and moved down to Tristan's room.

It was still the early morning. Peter had always been a morning person, and so had Hayden, so it came as no surprise that Hayden wanted his medical examinations taken care of first thing. Peter had always been happy to oblige. It was different for Micah and Tristan, who were both late risers, but Peter had grown accustomed to taking his breakfast later in the day and waiting for them. They probably hadn't known, and most likely wouldn't think much of his absence for just one day.

But they would if he left the note under Tristan's door as he had planned. For a brief moment he considered returning to his room and leaving the note on his desk, but then decided that Tristan needed to know. Of all people, he needed to know what was going on.

Peter sighed and slid the paper under Tristan's door before turning and walking down the hallway. It wouldn't change anything that was about to happen, but at least they wouldn't be wondering where he had gone when he wasn't at breakfast in the morning.


Tristan woke with a start at the knock at his door. It was loud and urgent, and he was certain it had repeated several times if he remembered correctly through his dreamy haze. He didn't bother to turn on the light as he stumbled across the floor toward the door, though he felt something shift and shuffle under his feet as he reached the knob. He kicked it aside, assuming that it was some article of clothing that he had discarded in his tiredness the night before.

He opened the door and stared, blinking, into Micah's grinning face, which was when Tristan looked down and noticed that in his tiredness he had failed to notice that he was naked and also nearly at full mast. With a touch of embarrassment he turned around as he pushed the door open wide enough for Micah to come in as he stepped toward his bathroom, leaving the bathroom door open just a crack as he relieved his morning dose of urine. He found a pair of boxers in the bathroom that he was sure were mostly clean and slid them on before joining Micah back in the bedroom.

"You know, this is the first time I've actually been in your room, but I saw it before you arrived," Micah said as he scanned the scattered dirty clothes and the papers that lined the desk. There was a thin layer of dust on the computer and it's components as well, but that was expected considering Tristan never used it. He didn't know how, and he didn't bother learning. There was a distinct odor of teenage boy in the room, and Micah crinkled his nose slightly as he god a big whiff of it, but then he simply shook his head and grinned again as he said, "It looks lived in."

"Yeah, whatever," Tristan said dismissively as he searched his clean clothes pile for a pair of jeans. He had done laundry a week before, and he was running out of clean clothing, which was the only reason why it didn't take him long to find a pair. "I know it's messy, but what can I say? This is the first time I've owned enough things in my life to actually be able to make a mess with them. I've read stories about life before the war, and from what I understand this is the way a teenager's room is supposed to look."

Micah just grinned and shook his head before leaning back on Tristan's bed and staring up at the ceiling. Tristan busied himself in getting dressed for the next couple minutes, and only when he had sat down at the computer desk to begin pulling on his shoes did he notice that Micah hadn't moved an inch and was decidedly quiet.

Tristan watched him for just a moment, taking in the sight of the beautiful human body in front of him. The black-haired blue eyed boy that Micah chose as his human avatar was not a creature of physical perfection, despite the fact that Micah could have chosen to make himself that way. Instead he had the occasional blemish, the mole on his cheek or the cowlick in his hair to name a couple, and these blemishes did not detract from his beauty but rather completed it, giving him the appearance of a very real and attractive boy.

A real and attractive boy who was also Tristan's age and laying on Tristan's bed, staring up at Tristan's ceiling. Tristan cleared his throat as he resumed sliding his shoes onto his feet and then said, "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

"I was wondering if you'd go on a hike with me," Micah answered quickly, but to Tristan it sounded incredibly rehearsed, as if Micah had been waiting for the question to be asked. Tristan slammed his foot into his boot the rest of the way before leaning back and pondering what was happening. Micah had been different ever since they had returned from Arizona, and it wasn't just in visits to Tristan's room.

Micah hadn't batted an eye when Tristan had visited the egg that Nevala had left behind, and which Tristan had entrusted to Ethan's care for study. Normally when Tristan made any mention of Nevala, Micah jumped immediately in line to make a snarky comment about the man, but since Nevala was now gone… Tristan had briefly considered that Micah was simply being respectful toward the dead, but there had been other things which had been different as well.

The others had noticed it too. Just as Peter had become more despondent, Micah had become more respectful all around. He hadn't fought back as much against Hayden's attempts to father him, or Luke's attempts to mother him. He had been warm and friendly to Peter, and even when Peter had begun blowing him off the day before he had continued in his efforts to play nice. He looked at Jacob and Kurt fondly, and engaged them in pleasant chatter more often than ever before.

But when it had come to his interactions with Tristan, he had been uncertain, dodging topics and avoiding eye contact. Up until this morning when he had suddenly shown up at Tristan's room, wanting to go hiking. Curiosity demanded that there could only be one answer to Micah's question.

"I'd love to," Tristan said, smiling sincerely. Micah looked up then and met Tristan's eyes while his own narrowed in suspicion. When he found only the sincerity Tristan put in his gaze, Micah looked away and blushed before jumping to his feet. He busied himself for the next moment in smoothing out the wrinkles in his jeans before looking up and meeting Tristan's eyes again, and this time there was something else in them. Hope.

"Then come on. We'll grab a quick breakfast and then hit the trail," Micah said as he stood and walked toward the door. The uncertainty returned to his voice as he paused in the doorway and whispered, "I've been waiting to take you up the mountain for a long time."

Tristan wondered what that comment was supposed to mean, but he didn't respond to it as they left his room and headed toward the cafeteria. Micah was equally quiet until they had reached the room where Kurt and Luke were eating breakfast accompanied by Jacob. Peter was noticeably absent, since he usually met Tristan in the cafeteria for breakfast, and it was strange for Tristan to arrive first, though it did happen occasionally.

"Good morning, kids," Kurt said with a grandfatherly wink. It was good to see that he had recovered from their journey through the desert, and Tristan couldn't help but smile back. The aroma of strong coffee filled the room, emanating from the cup in front of Luke, which told Tristan that Luke hadn't slept well the night before. Despite the tired smile on his face Luke's eyes showed that he was stressed. Jacob looked as youthful yet serene as he always did, and he smiled at them warmly.

"Kids? Listen, uncle," Micah said with a roguish grin. Ever since he had given his rant on how everyone in the confederacy was family, Kurt hadn't let up on treating Micah like his nephew, and surprisingly Micah had gone along with it without any hesitation. "You gotta stop treating us like we're just kids. We're practically adults, you know."

"He knows, Micah," Jacob said, rolling his eyes as he elbowed Kurt in the stomach, which earned him a glare from Kurt that only lasted a fraction of a second before it became a warm smile. "You two look like you're headed somewhere," Jacob observed with a blank expression, eyeing them up and down.

"We are," Tristan answered quickly. "We're going on a hike up the mountain. We're going to grab something quick to take with us and then who knows how long we'll be gone. Let Peter know where we went if you see him, will you?"

Jacob nodded as Micah requested a couple of sandwiches from the computer to take with them on their hike, before grabbing an apple and tossing a banana to Tristan. They started in on the fruit as they left the cafeteria, waving goodbye to everyone as they went.

The silence lingered until long after they had climbed the ladder that led out of the underground complex and into the woods that surrounded the place. They hiked for nearly a half an hour simply enjoying the scenery. Tristan didn't mind the silence, considering that he had spent many days on hunts with Corban or Zach, and had often been forced to witness the serenity of nature without comment or risk losing whatever their prey happened to be. Tristan hadn't spent many moments up above the complex since he had made it his home, but he appreciated the fact that he was now trusted to leave. Neither Hayden nor Luke gave him any pressure about getting caught by the Alliance anymore, and they also had no thought that he was going to run away. Once Tristan had become certain that Zach was dead, or at the least wasn't going to be found any time soon, he had grown accustomed to the thought of staying with the Confederacy.

As if Micah were reading his mind he spoke suddenly, catching Tristan off guard. "How do you like it here?"

Tristan didn't answer immediately, and Micah cast several nervous glances his way before Tristan finally cleared his throat and said, "I like it a lot. I didn't think I would at first. I mean, Hayden's a total douche sometimes…"

"Tell me about it!" Micah said with a chuckle. "But he means well."

"That's not the Micah I knew a month ago!" Tristan replied, which earned him a look of alarm from Micah. "I remember when you and I were kicking around in the snow, and you punched the tree because you were so pissed off at Hayden treating you like a kid!"

Micah laughed openly as he remembered the instance as well, but then he shook his head and became more somber as he looked away again and replied, "I guess I just needed someone to help put things in perspective for me; someone to tell me that I needed others in my life."

Tristan let the words linger for several minutes, thinking that Micah had more to say, but when Micah didn't continue he went on with answering Micah's original question. "I like everyone, even Hayden. I get them now, whereas I didn't at the beginning. I know he's lost a lot, and that's what makes him protective of the things he still has. I think you and Hayden have a lot in common, actually."

Micah stopped walking and turned to stare at Tristan as if he had lost his mind, but then he shook his head and laughed again as he replied, "I don't see how anyone else would have seen it, considering how often we fight, but I think you're right about that. It's understandable now why you…" He trailed off and coughed several times and didn't continue.

"What is it?" Tristan asked, his eyes widening. He moved up to Micah's side and patted him on the back as Micah coughed again, though if anything Micah looked red with embarrassment rather than lack of oxygen.

"I…" Micah began as he turned back to Tristan. He met Tristan's eyes, expecting to see something there other than the concern that was present, and then he nodded slightly as he made his decision. He stood up straight and gestured to a nearby fallen tree and said, "Would you sit with me for a moment?"

Tristan shrugged and moved over to the log and sat down, and then raised an eyebrow as Micah remained standing, looking at him critically. He was about to question Micah's actions when Micah suddenly began speaking. "I think I like you, Tristan…" he said with a smirk, but then through his hands up in the air in frustration when he stopped speaking again.

"I like you too, Micah," Tristan replied, though the admission only seemed to upset Micah even more.

"No, you don't get it, Tristan!" Micah shouted as he turned back toward his friend. "God… ever since that day in Seattle when you nearly died because of me, you've been nearly all I think about. At first I thought it was guilt, but then when we were in Canada my feelings started to change. I opened up to you, the first person I've opened up to since my parents died… and then when I shifted and we huddled together for warmth, I felt something different, something I had never expected. I wanted to be close to you, no I needed to be close to you. And then Nevala came along and took all of your time, and I started getting insanely jealous, and then when you were captured down in the canyon, I…"

Tristan's lips met Micah's and the ranting stopped briefly as Micah stared at Tristan with barely masked pain buried beneath confusion. "I thought I had lost you… that I had been too weak to protect you," he said quietly, looking at Tristan for additional confirmation of how he felt. He got it as Tristan pulled him close for a second kiss. When they pulled apart again several seconds later, Micah was crying, and Tristan didn't let him get away. He pulled Micah in for an embrace and held him tight until Micah's sobbing stopped.

"I'm so messed up, Tristan…" Micah whispered as Tristan continued to hold him. "Why are you so nice to me?"

"Micah…" Tristan said as he guided them both down to the log and then patted the log beside him, indicating that Micah should sit there rather than on top of him. Micah readily complied. Tristan took Micah's hand in his and gripped it firmly as he went on, "I don't know why I feel the way that I do, or even what I feel altogether, but I do know that I enjoyed that kiss we just shared, and I'd love to do it again. You're… exciting, and an enigma, and I've always loved complex people. You may be surprised to hear this, but I don't think I would have been as inclined to stay here if you hadn't been a part of it all."

"What…?" Micah began, but Tristan cut him off with a quick kiss which shut Micah up completely.

"That seems to work, so I'll keep doing that every time you interrupt me," Tristan said with a sly smile.

"That'll just give me more reason to…" Micah began again and was met with another kiss, this time causing Micah to giggle. It was the first time that Tristan had ever heard Micah laugh in that manner, and he found the almost effeminate quality to the laugh to be intoxicating, especially considering the rough source that Micah was. Micah opened his mouth to speak again, but before the words even left his mouth Tristan kissed him again, hard.

"As much as I am enjoying this," Tristan said as Micah giggled again, "I believe you asked me a question and I am doing my damnedest to ensure that it is properly answered."

Micah grinned and nodded before replying, "All right, I'll behave."

"Good," Tristan said with a satisfied nod. He opened his mouth as if to start speaking again and then gave Micah another peck on the lips before continuing where he had left off. "I saw a lot of what I was going through in you. You were the one who had lost his family, and I had just had the same thing happen to me. If you hadn't been here, I don't think I would have had anyone I related to enough. Even though I thought you hated me, I still needed to have that connection with someone. I never doubted that you were a good person, and I thought that I could help you realize it."

It was quiet for a moment as Micah let the words sink in. He squeezed Tristan's hand for a moment before letting go, and then leaned forward and away from Tristan as he started speaking again, "You know, I never really hated you. I was jealous of you for a while, but… No, I think I enjoyed being the kid, the one that they all thought they had to take care of because that gave me reason to fight back and show them that I didn't need them. Then, when you came along I realized that I did need them, and I was also no longer the center of attention… It hurt for a while, and I lashed out, but I see the truth now. The truth is, I've wanted you since the beginning, and it just took me awhile to realize it."

"So, where do we go from here?" Tristan asked after another moment of silence. Micah looked at him when the question sunk in, and their eyes remained locked for nearly a minute before he stood up and turned toward Tristan.

"Tristan Langster, or Tristan Rembrandt, whatever you want to be called…"

"Call me 'Tris'," Tristan replied with a grin.

"Tris," Micah said with a grin of his own. "Tris, will you be my boyfriend?"

Tristan stood and pulled Micah into an embrace while locking their lips together, they parted a half a minute later, panting. "Micah, I hope that my answer was clear enough." He slid his hand back into Micah's and pulled him back toward the trail. "Now, I believe we have a hike to get back to."


"Where is Peter?" Jacob asked as Kurt finished putting his dish away from breakfast. Kurt looked at him with a questioning eyebrow raised, and Jacob knew that he had given away his emotions in his speech. Even if he had been trying to hide his growing anxiousness, Kurt would have seen through him anyway.

"What do you mean?" Kurt replied as he met his lover's eyes. "He often eats breakfast early in the morning. He's hardly as irregular as we are in that regard. I'm sure he's just busy reading or something. You know how he gets when he's feeling introverted. He hasn't been the same since the canyon."

"Can you blame him?" Jacob asked with a shake of his head. "I remember how you were the first time you were forced to kill someone that you knew because they had turned on us. It tore you apart. I've always wondered what would happen if you ever did actually kill Faust…"

"Could we not talk about Faust, please?" Kurt replied in a tone that implied that if Jacob continued speaking on the subject then Kurt wasn't going to listen anyway. Jacob smirked at the reaction but nodded anyway. Even after a decade and a half Kurt still didn't want to face the reality of what had happened between him and his best friend.

"All right," Jacob said with a sigh, "I won't, but we do need to talk about Peter. I think we should talk to him more specifically."

Kurt looked away, though when Jacob followed his gaze he quickly came to realize that Kurt wasn't looking at anything in particular. He was thinking, and his thinking often disconnected him somewhat from his surroundings. "Penny for your thoughts, lover," Jacob said after a moment. Kurt turned back toward him and blinked several times before speaking.

"I'm sorry…" Kurt said with a shake of his head. "Sure, let's go talk to Peter."

Jacob nodded and indicated that Kurt should lead the way to Peter's room. Kurt nodded and started down the hallway with Jacob following immediately after him. There wasn't enough space for them to walk side by side, though with Jacob's ability to walk through the walls it would have been possible. Jacob did his best to make everything seem normal when he and Kurt were together, though that was often difficult. After all of the years that they had been together, Jacob was still insecure about being different than his lover.

It was one of the ways that Jacob had always been able to identify with Peter, though they hadn't spoken about it before. Jacob felt the same way about Micah and Tristan as well. They were the anomalies in the group, the nonhumans. Ethan also fit the bill, though Jacob and Ethan's relationship was something different altogether. They had been friends long enough that the difference no longer seemed to register. Micah was quickly becoming such a friend as well, but Peter was still relatively new to the group.

Jacob's heart had always ached for Peter whenever he had seen the pain that Peter's difference had caused with the others. He knew exactly what it felt like to have a body, or in Jacob's case a lack of one, that didn't seem to fit him. Being transgendered as Peter was had as great of an impact on separating him from the others as his being a weretiger. The others simply didn't know what it was like.

They arrived at Peter's room and Kurt knocked several times, but there was no answer. Kurt looked at Jacob and shrugged before knocking again. This was met with silence as well. Kurt opened his mouth as he started to shrug again but it quickly turned into a protest as Jacob walked through the door and into Peter's room.

It was a neatly kept room, everything in order and not a thing out of place. It even looked as if it had been vacuumed recently, which was not something any of the other residents did with any regularity to Jacob's knowledge. Kurt did on rare occasion, and certainly Luke would be inclined to do so from time to time as well, but it was a mark of Peter's unimposing character that he kept things this neat.

But even with all the neatness, something felt entirely wrong. There was no life in this room, no energy except one. Pain. Jacob sensed it everywhere, as if the order of the carefully placed objects themselves were screaming at him that their owner was in danger. The creaking of the door knob told him that Kurt had decided to ignore his own sense of social propriety and join him in the room, but Jacob wasn't smiling as he turned back to greet his lover. Kurt wasn't smiling either.

"What the hell is your problem, Jacob?" Kurt asked as he stepped into the room. "Since when do we invade the privacy of our friends?"

"This is important, Kurt," Jacob said, trying to keep the impatience out of his voice. "Don't tell me you can't sense anything?"

Kurt sighed and looked around before shrugging and saying, "It's clean, but Peter's room is always clean. Why is that important?"

Jacob frowned and looked around again, the pain he had sensed earlier hadn't diminished at all. Without looking back at Kurt's face he said, "Would you do me a favor and call Ethan?"

Kurt sighed again and walked to the intercom on the wall and pressed the button to call to Ethan's room. "Ethan, are you there?"

"Kurt!" Ethan's voice answered through the speaker. "Why are you calling me instead of coming here and more importantly why are you in Peter's room?"

Kurt opened his mouth to respond after glaring at Jacob but Jacob spoke before Kurt could. "Is Peter in the complex?" He asked with a level tone.

"No," Ethan replied instantly, "His access code was used to leave early this morning. Hayden mentioned to me earlier that Peter was planning on going for a hike up the mountain to clear his head."

"Thank you. I'll give you more details later," Jacob said with a pensive glance at Kurt.

Kurt looked at Jacob with an expression that said he still didn't sense anything wrong, and he made his feelings clear as he said, "Remember, Micah and Tristan were going up the mountain as well. They were probably intending to go together. I'm sure he's fine."

"You're right," Jacob said with his face lighting up as he got an idea. "We should see if Tristan knows anything. Let's go check his room!"

"That is not what I meant, Jacob," Kurt growled but Jacob had already walked through the wall toward Tristan's room. Once he was inside, he noticed the mess that showed how differently Tristan lived from Peter, and immediately felt a sense of comfort. Except for one thing. There was definitely a trace of that pain in the room, and he couldn't put his finger on where. Somewhere near the door. Jacob set his gaze on a piece of paper that had been mangled slightly before landing face down on a pile of clothes. That was definitely it.

The door opened and Kurt stepped inside, his frown and simmering eyes giving Jacob every indication that his patience was wearing thin with this endeavor. "What are we doing, Jacob?" He asked as he stepped inside, glancing around for only a second before setting his eyes on his lover.

"Close the door. What we need is behind it," Jacob said, motioning emphatically with his hand. Kurt stared at him blankly and shook his head before doing as he was asked. He looked to where Jacob's eyes staring and saw the paper before turning back to his lover with a questioning eyebrow raised. "The paper, pick it up and read it," Jacob ordered.

Kurt sighed and picked up the paper before bringing it close to his face to read it in the dim light from the hallway. "It's addressed to Tristan, Jacob," Kurt said as he moved the letter away from his face with a look of disgust. "I will not invade their privacy."

"Read it!" Jacob snapped, "This is important, I know it is."

The look that Kurt gave him then was among the angriest looks that Jacob had ever seen on his lover's face, but Kurt's eyes also saw the insistence that Jacob had, and he was never able to refuse Jacob anything. With a growl that showed how detestable he thought his process was, he brought the letter back to his face and started to read aloud:

Tristan,

You have been a friend to me like no one else, and for that reason alone I feel I must tell you what I am about to do. You deserve to know that the reasons I am doing this are entirely personal, and not because of anything that you or the others have done. I am the one at fault.

I killed Indrus. My friend, my mentor. I did it to save Micah, but that is hardly an excuse for that action. I did it once before, when we were fighting for our lives in Canada. I didn't show it then, but it affected me, it started to change me. And now it has escalated to this. I've killed someone who once saved my life.

How could I live with constant reminders to that? I am a doctor, a healer, and I have now broken away from my nature. I have gone against myself, and I cannot reconcile that. These last few days have been torture, and I can't take it any longer.

I'm done. You will never see me again. It's too painful to go on like this. I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you in person, but it had to be done. I couldn't let you talk me out of what I'm about to do.

Thank you for everything,

Peter.

"What the hell?" Jacob said when Kurt had finished. "Is that a suicide note!?"

"Oh my god…" Kurt said as his hand fell limply to his side and the letter dropped to the floor. "You were right. We have to find him!"

"There's no way that we could possibly reach him in time if he went up the mountain," Jacob said, shaking his head. "The aircraft has nowhere to land up there, and he's sure to be out of my range by now if only…" He stopped as an idea began to form in his mind.

"Tristan and Micah!" Kurt and Jacob said in unison.

"All right, I'll organize the others here, you see if you can find them and send them after Peter right away," Kurt suggested. Jacob nodded and entered the Aether, searching for his two young friends. He could only hope that they weren't already too far away to reach in time.


"So, I must admit that I'm slightly curious how this is going to work," Tristan said as he caught his breath at the end of a particularly rocky section of the trail. That portion had seemed more like a dry riverbed than a trail, and it had been particularly grueling.

"What do you mean?" Micah asked as he turned around with a concerned look on his face. "Are you telling me that you're having doubts now?"

"No, just questions," Tristan replied with a smile, slipping his hand into Micah's again. "I mean, you're a shape shifter and I'm a phoenix. Aren't your worried that someday we'll be in the throes of passion and I'll accidentally light you on fire?"

Micah laughed nervously at the thought before kissing Tristan on the cheek. "Somehow I don't think you'd ever harm me, though I admit that I had thought about that when you first started training with Nevala."

Tristan winced at the mention of Nevala, and Micah's eyes were immediately filled with regret. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought him up…" Tristan placed his hand against Micah's lips and shook his head, smiling again to bury the wince.

"Don't worry about it. I know that the answer to what happened is in that egg we brought back. Ethan will study it and we'll have our answer soon enough," Tristan said with a shake of his head. "I'm not convinced he's gone forever. Something about what happened seems like it fits with the old tales of the phoenix. That fire almost felt… familiar."

Micah nodded slowly and looked back to the trail ahead, his eyes growing distant for a moment as he started pulling Tristan along. After a minute he said, "You know, what happened with Nevala was what finally gave me the courage to talk to you. When you shielded me from that fire… That's when I knew that I could trust you with anything. I had come to rescue you, and in the end you had been the one to save my life."

Tristan squeezed Micah's hand and replied, "I like this side of you. I like your other side too, but this deep, philosophical side is beautiful."

"Oh?" Micah said with a raised eyebrow as he turned back toward Tristan. "How is it any different?"

Tristan gave him an incredulous look and then said, "Micah, I think I may be in love with you, but you're a total jackass."

Micah's eyes widened for a moment but then he started giggling uncontrollably. Tristan joined him and they laughed for a solid minute before Micah kissed Tristan on the lips and asked, "Can I always trust you to be this blunt with me?" Tristan nodded and Micah continued, "You know, I've never been in love before, so that's probably why I'm acting differently. You're so different from…"

"Tristan!"

They turned toward the sound of Jacob's voice, calling out in the distance, then turned to look at each other, confusion evident in both of their features. They started moving toward the sound even as Jacob called out again. "Micah!"

They increased their pace and quickly found Jacob in a clearing, his face strained and his form flickering. Since Tristan was out of breath, Micah was the first one to speak. "Jacob, what's going on?"

"I'm glad to see you two. I'm at maximum range, and I can't stay out this far for long. It's Peter, he's here on the mountain and he's planning on doing something terrible. We think he's going to kill hims…" Jacob's form flickered and he disappeared, his words lost as he snapped back through the Aether toward his home in the hunting knife.

Micah and Tristan shared another look, this one of horror as the news set in. Tristan was the first to break the silence. "Did he just say that Peter was planning on killing himself?" Micah stared at him for only a moment longer before he started to strip off his clothes and simultaneously began to shift his features to his feline ones.

His nose began to sniff the air, and he paused for just a minute as he slipped his shirt over his head. "His scent is definitely on the trail back there. He passed by an hour ago. I can catch him," He said with conviction as he kicked off his shoes and began sliding his pants down.

"We're going together. You're going to have to give me a ride," Tristan said in a way that left no room for argument. Micah looked up at him as if he were about to protest anyway, but seeing the conviction in Tristan's eyes Micah nodded slowly and completed his shift. Once he was in his feline form, Tristan climbed onto his back and then Micah began his climb up the mountainside.


Peter passed the gurgling stream just before noon by his reckoning of the sun's position in the sky. He had been climbing for some time, and was almost at his favorite part of the trail. It had been almost a spiritual experience as he travelled up the mountain, taking his time more than he usually would, but still moving forward at a determined pace. He was going to go through with this, and that was more important than anything else.

But this would be the last time that he climbed this mountain, and he wanted to make sure it was imprinted on his memory before he never saw it again. He loved nature, always had and always would; the sheer force of life thriving in a world where humans rarely paid it any heed. That was his tiger talking, and he knew it. For all the aspects of the tiger inside of him that he detested, from the primal violence to the fact that it kept him from being able to transition in the way he wanted to, that was one attribute that he would never trade away. He felt connected to the life around him in such a way he had always been humbled to be part of the great web of life.

And now he was going to do something that seemed to go against it, but he didn't think he had any other option. He had to get away from the pain, no matter what it took. Every time he looked at the other members in the Confederacy, he was reminded of the life that he had taken from Indrus. They were his friends, what was to stop him from killing them too? He couldn't bear the thought of being put into the position of ending one of their lives, no matter if they were mind controlled or worse.

And that might mean he would end up letting them down, and that thought was even worse than the one before it. He had always been a disappointment to those around him. No one understood what he went through, the pain of dealing with his dysphoria. They claimed he was making himself a victim, that he was making a bigger deal than he should about things that he shouldn't be worrying about at all. His parents had never understood, Indrus had been a mentor but he had never understood either. Why couldn't they understand?

It didn't matter anymore. He was done, and he would leave it all behind as soon as he reached the cliff. Then he would leave and never come back. It was the only way. He had to escape, and if that meant departing into the wild and never seeing another human soul again, he'd do it. The only person that might be able to track him would be Micah, and he had to hope that Micah of all people would understand that he didn't want to be found. First, however, he had to get off the mountain in a way that the others couldn't follow, at least not easily.

The trail turned and dodged around a large boulder, then cut quickly through a copse of trees and up to a small rise. There, not five meters from him, was the cliff. It rose two hundred meters from the valley floor beneath it, and was a difficult climb for an amateur climber. Peter, however, had been climbing mountains since he was a child. The only good memories he had of his father were of climbing in the Alps when they went to visit family in Germany. He had always loved the feeling of hanging from the side of a cliff, looking around at the open world around him.

This particular cliff was no different. Peter had climbed it a dozen times over the last two years, and that had been enough for him to know it well. But before he started his climb down and to safety, he needed to take in the view. He could see for miles from this vantage point, and it was all wilderness. He could live in the area for the rest of his life, hunting what he needed to for food, but it would be better if he made his way south, deeper into the Colorado Rockies and further away from the Confederacy. The further the better, until he was in danger of running into humans again, anyway.

He set his backpack down and retrieved his climbing gear, but then set it aside as he surveyed the view again. For the first time in the past few days, he wasn't thinking about Indrus, or the disappointment he was bringing to others. Up here, he was already free. For a brief moment he began to consider if there was a way for him to stay at the top of the cliff forever, but then he shook his head and smiled sadly. It was time to move on. He stepped up to the edge of the cliff and prepared to set his rope for the climb down.

He heard the sound of an animal moving through the brush behind him, and turned toward the sound instinctively. The sudden movement caused his foot to slide on the pebbles beneath his feet, and his leg slid out from under him. As his other leg tried to compensate, it too began to slide, and Peter noted with alarm that he was about to slide off of the cliff. All thoughts of the animal or his climb down were suddenly pushed aside as he threw the rope from his hands and tried to catch himself, but he kept sliding anyway. He was about to go over the edge when he felt a strong hand grasp his wrist and start pulling him up. Another hand joined the first on the same arm, and then another pair of hands grabbed his other arm.

Peter looked up into the face of his rescuers, and his eyes widened as his eyes met first Tristan's than Micah's. Both of their faces were filled with nothing but concern and determination to pull Peter back from the cliff, and Peter met their determination with his own and finally got his feet under him. A few seconds later they were several feet back from the cliff face, panting from the exertion.

"I think we have a false alarm," Tristan said between breaths, gesturing to the climbing gear. "But looks like we arrived just in time, anyway."

"What the hell are you two doing here?" Peter asked, glancing between the two of them. "I didn't write you that note so that you'd come after me."

"You wrote a note?" Tristan asked, glancing at Micah who shrugged. "News to me. Micah invited me on a hike today, and then Jacob showed up and said that you might be about to do something stupid. What were you planning on doing, Peter?"

Peter grew quiet and looked away from them, hanging his head in shame. Neither Micah nor Tristan said anything, and they waited patiently for Peter to answer the question. When he finally felt up to it he looked back at them and winced at the open concern in their faces. He didn't want to see that concern, it made him want to stay and not do what he had to do.

"I killed Indrus," Peter explained, and then paused for a moment to take a deep breath. He was in significant danger of choking up over what he had to say. "He was my friend. I know that he wasn't the same to any of you, but that's who he was to me. I know that I did it to save your life, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Since that day, I've had a hard time being around anyone. I can't look at any of you without wondering when I'll be forced to remove you from my life. When I'll be the one forced to end this. I decided that since I didn't have any choice, and it would happen eventually, and so I ran away."

"Fuck that!" Micah said with a snort. "You do have a choice here, Peter. Either you face yourself and own up to what has happened, or you die. Running from yourself is dying slowly…" as the words left Micah's mouth it was as if he were reliving some distant memory for a moment, and then he snapped back to reality and met Peter's eyes as he continued, "You have to have the courage to face life, and I know you do."

"Courage, Micah?" Peter replied in disbelief. "I have the least courage of all of you… I don't think I'm strong enough."

"Pfft…" Micah said, rolling his eyes. "Peter, how long have we known each other?"

"Two years, going on three, why?"

"How many of those years have I been a jackass?"

Peter gave a half smile as he replied, "All of them…"

"If you can put up with me tearing you down every day for two years, and you still found the courage to stand up for yourself and to be who you are, I think you have more courage than most," Micah said with a smirk. He rested a hand on Peter's shoulder and added, "Don't sell yourself short.

"How poetic…" Tristan said with a chuckle.

"Shut up, Tris," Micah growled.

"But how can I go back?" Peter whined as he shook his head. "I can't see all of you and not think about the road that brought me here. I killed the first man that was ever kind to me."

"Think about it this way, Petra…" Micah began, which earned him a sharp glare from Peter. "Yeah, I said that to get your blood pumping, Peter. I'm glad you're still in there." He ginned devilishly and continued, "If you hadn't killed Indrus, I wouldn't have been here to pull you up from that cliff. You saved my life, and in turn I was able to save yours. We're family, Peter. This is what we do."

"You're not going to let me leave, are you?" Peter asked, looking from one to the other.

"If that's what you really want, we will, but we're begging you to stay," Tristan said with a supportive smile. "We need you, Peter. You were the first one I felt comfortable around, the first one I truly felt I could trust with anything. I don't think we'd survive without you."

"All right, you've talked me into it," Peter said with a sigh. "Let's go."

~ ~ ~ ~

"I haven't climbed up this trail in years! God… I'm getting tired," Ethan exclaimed from the back of the line. The others shook their head at his remark, though the candidness of Ethan's comment did disrupt the concern they were all feeling over Peter's welfare.

"Can it, Ethan," Hayden called back as he hobbled up the trail on one of Luke's extra canes. "You're in a younger body than Kurt's, and you have two good legs."

"I'm sorry!" Ethan raised his hands in surrender. He called up to Kurt and asked, "Has Jacob had any luck finding them?"

"He's too tired from the strain of going after them before," Kurt called back from his position at the head of the line. "He can only go so far right now."

"Actually," Jacob said as he rematerialized next to them. "I can barely get anywhere at all. We might as well stick together."

"Agreed," Luke remarked from immediately behind Hayden. "We're about half way up now, and we should reach the end of the trail in a couple hours if we're lucky, then…"

"Hey," Kurt interrupted as he motioned for the group to hurry. "I hear them!"

Tristan's voice was the first one to great them from further up the trail and around a bend in the trees. He was speaking in a pleasant tone as he said, "So yeah, Micah and I are now…"

"Shh…" Micah said as he came around the bend first, calling over his shoulder to Peter and Tristan, "The others have made it."

"Peter!" Jacob said as he travelled to Peter's side and smiled at him warmly, the relief in his eyes almost tangible. "Boy is it good to see you."

"Wait," Peter said as the others rushed up the trail. "You all came after me? Wha…"

"Of course we did!" Kurt said as he wrapped Peter in a hug. "We had to make sure you were all right. God, you had us so worried."

"I don't know what to say…" Peter replied, his eyes wide in wonder.

"You don't have to say anything at all, Peter," Luke said as he embraced Peter next. "Just come home."

"I…" Peter began as he surveyed the faces of the others. He was completely speechless, and he let the sentence end there.

"Did you find what you were looking for up on the mountain?" Hayden asked with a twinkle in his eye as he too wrapped Peter in a hug, a rare sign of affection from him.

"Yes, Hayden, I think I did," Peter replied after a moment. His eyes began to tear up as he met each of their eyes again before adding. "I love all of you, I can't believe this."

"We love you too," Ethan said with a grin, then he waved Peter forward and added, "Now stop making this all mushy and let's go get dinner."

Peter smiled at him warmly, the expression no longer feeling foreign to his face. He stepped up to Ethan and surprised the older man by embracing him as well. Ethan hugged him back firmly, and together they formed the start of the line that would take them back home.

Tristan and Micah shared a look as the others started down, and then kissed each other softly before joining hands again, glad with the end result of the grueling day. Courage had won the day for everyone it seemed, and there was no other way they'd rather have it.

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