A Second More
By Andrea

Slym pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers to relieve the pressure, then looked back up at his sons. "Let me get this straight. The two of you... are *mind-linked*?"

The boys nodded in unison, but it was Nate who answered. "Twin-linked. It broke when we were separated--" his hand snaked out and grabbed Stryfe's "--but we fixed it."

"...How do you know you were linked before?" Redd asked softly, looking between them. She'd been momentarily terrified when she and Slym returned home and found the two boys huddled together on the floor, but now the obvious bond between the twins was very... warming. Especially given the future she knew had once awaited them. Maybe she and Scott really HAD changed things for them...

"We remember it," Stryfe answered quietly, a little smile playing on his face. "It's... fuzzy, and we were really little, but... I remember him. I--guess I should remember you and Father too, but..."

"You were very young," Slym interrupted, *not* wanting to explain that. "I'm surprised you remember *that* much."

"I guess. Nate remembers it a little better."

"That's 'cause I'm older," Nate spoke up with a grin. "Right, Redd?"

"Ah... yes, you are."

"I thought so," he said smugly. He nudged Stryfe and added, "Little brother."

Stryfe just grinned at him.

"All right... I want to hear more about this," Slym said slowly, "but I'd better get started on these if we want to eat tonight." He moved to pick up the results of the day's hunting and began cleaning the animals that resembled nothing so much as giant, furry lobsters. Good meat, though. ~Tastes like chicken,~ he thought irreverently with an internal smile. "So. Explain?"

"Nate was trying to... help with my headache," Stryfe explained with a sideways look at his brother. "We... got tangled up, and Nate found

the broken halves of the link. He fixed it."

"Why didn't you tell us about it though?" Nate asked, tilting his head inquisitively as he looked at his parents. "If we had it when we were babies, you knew."

"Ah..." Redd thought for a moment before replying carefully, "Usually when a link is broken, it... disappears. Especially after this long. We didn't think there was anything left of it."

"Oh. Okay." Nate frowned and chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "I guess it's because it didn't break right... It was hurting, like it never healed. And... we tried to hold on to each other." He looked over at Stryfe again and squeezed his hand. "I remember that."

"Me too." Stryfe squeezed back gratefully.

"But you're both doing all right?" Slym asked worriedly. "I know a new link can be a little... disorienting at first." He exchanged a rueful smile with Redd.

"It was... scary," Stryfe admitted very quietly. "I thought, at first, that I was... back in the Palace." He shivered and blinked hard. "But... then I remembered him. And... it wasn't so scary."

Slym and Redd *both* had to blink back tears at that.

Redd reached out to put a hand on Stryfe's shoulder, then changed her mind and shifted so she could hug *both* boys. "I'm glad you found each other again, then."

"Me too," they replied in chorus, then grinned sheepishly at each other.

"Me three," Slym added with a smile. "And I think it'll especially help since we're going to be leaving soon. Things are a little different than they were in the palace. Nate can help you out, Stryfe."

"Leaving?" Stryfe repeated, his eyes widening ever-so-slightly.

"We can't stay here forever, and since we don't have identification papers for you yet, we should get going while there's still confusion from Apocalypse's death. We have... friends that will help us get new ones."

"W-why do I need papers?"

"Because *everyone* has to have them," Redd told him with a half-hug. "And if anyone's out looking for the prince, they hopefully will ignore just another member of the Dayspring unit."

"Oh." Stryfe considered this for a moment, then smiled tentatively at Slym and offered, "Stryfe Dayspring?"

Slym smiled crookedly. "That might be a *little* obvious. We don't *want* anyone to know who you are."


"Besides, that's not *really* your name anyway," Nate spoke up suddenly. "Apocalypse named you that, right? You must've had a name before that."

"I--I guess I did," Stryfe said slowly. Both boys turned expectant looks on Slym. Slym blinked at them and opened his mouth, but every name he knew melted out of his mind.

"Sean," Redd spoke up suddenly. "Your name is Sean Dayspring."

"Sean," Stryfe repeated softly, testing it out.

#Sean?# Slym asked in amusement, raising an eyebrow at his wife over the boys' heads.

#I used to plan on naming my son that when I was little,# she replied. #And we needed *something*.#

#I'm not arguing. Sean it is.#

Stryfe--Sean--smiled at them both. "Okay. I--I like it."

"Me too," Nate said with a grin, slinging his arm around Sean's shoulders. "Nate and Sean Dayspring. Together again." He giggled. "Watch out, world."

"Are we there yet?"

Slym blinked and half-turned to grin at his son walking just behind him. Some things, he reflected in amusement, don't change no matter *what* century you're in. "Not yet, Nate."

"But soon?" Nate persisted, speeding up a bit so he could walk at Slym's side.

"Another day, I think. We'll be stopping in a few hours."

"Oh." Nate slipped his hand in Slym's and sneaked a quick look behind them, where his twin was walking with Redd. He took a breath and sent *very* quietl

y, #Sean's getting really tired, but he doesn't want to admit it.#

#Oh... Thank you.# Slym considered for a moment, then slowed his pace enough to walk abreast with Sean and Redd. "Anyone mind if we stop for a while soon? My knee's been acting up today. We're making better time than I thought, so it won't slow us down too much."

Redd gave him a worried look, but he flicked his eyes down to Sean briefly. She nodded in understanding. "Sounds good to me."

"Are you all right, Father?" Sean asked softly, trying not to show how relieved he felt at the prospect of a rest.

"Just need to sit down for a few minutes. Don't worry. We'll stop when we find a good place."


Slym smiled at Sean and ruffled his hair affectionately, then returned to walking just in front of them with Nate. Redd squeezed Sean's hand reassuringly and offered, "Why don't we finish up this exercise and then take a break ourselves?"

He nodded and started running through the shielding exercise Redd had taught him. He'd finally realized that the utter silence in his mind *wasn't* his powers malfunctioning, but Redd shielding him while he recovered. Now that his powers were returning, he had to learn to do it himself. And for some reason, Sean thought bitterly, Apocalypse hadn't wanted him to learn much in the way of shielding before, so he had a *lot* to learn.

The combination of walking all day with the unfamiliar mental exercises was enough to give him a pounding headache most of the time, and tired him *far* more quickly than he wanted to admit. He was guiltily a bit glad that Slym's knee was acting up...

They finally stopped when Slym spotted a good area just off the path that was moderately defensible if need be and offered a bit of shade to weary travelers. Sean tried to copy Nate as the other boy sat down looking far more cheerful than this much activity should allow, but only managed a controlled collapse onto the ground. Nate offered him the waterskin and he drank thankfully.

#This is ridiculous,# he complained to his brother. #I was in good shape! I trained, I fought. Just *walking* shouldn't make me this tired.# Not that he would *ever* say that to Redd or *Slym Dayspring*, but this was just his twin. Nate was... safe.

#Well, you weren't exactly moving around much for a while there, you know,# Nate pointed out wryly, taking the water back and sipping it. #You're getting better quickly, though. And you CAN ask to stop if you need to! HE did.#

#I... guess.# Sean didn't *say* anything else, but his tone clearly implied that he would rather be dragged naked across broken glass than admit that to *Slym Dayspring*.

Nate just reached over and gave him a quick hug.

Slym smiled across at the two boys, making a point of rubbing his knee. It *had* been giving him some trouble, though not enough that he ordinarily would've stopped. They weren't exactly on a timetable, though, and it was more important to keep Str--*Sean* (he had to remind himself of that a few times a day) healthy. "So how are you boys holding up?"

"Fine," Sean replied, then mock-glared at Nate for answering in chorus with him.

#Well, if you didn't *say* it so often...#

#Hmph. Know-it-all.#

#Brat,# Nate retorted cheerfully. "So just one more day, Slym?" he asked, grinning as his twin shot back with a rude mental noise. "Who ARE these people we're going to see?"

Slym exchanged a glance with his wife. It was Redd who answered carefully, "They're called the Askani. They're... associated with the Clan Rebellion, a little. They helped us before, when we first went on the run."

"Why?" Sean asked. His brow furrowed a little in thought and he added slowly, "I've heard of the Askani. I--I thought Apocalypse destroyed them, years ago."

"He tried." Slym's voice was grim. "And he nearly succeeded. Most of the Askani were killed, but there are some left. They're scattered in little clusters; we're heading for one of them."

"And Redd grew up with them," Nate told Sean. When Redd and Slym blinked at him, he added slowly, "Didn't she? You said she did. Well, to the gate guards. I guess that doesn't mean it was true..."

"We... had a long history with the Mother Askani," Redd explained after a hurried mental conversation with Slym about how much to reveal. "So when Nate got infected with the T-O, the Askani tried to help cure him. But that was just before Apocalypse attacked." She closed her eyes briefly. "The Cloisters were destroyed, along with most of the Askani. And... Apocalypse took Sean. Slym and I barely made it out with Nate."

"Oh." Sean's voice was very small, his eyes very large. Nate had a firm grip on his hand. "So that's how it happened..."

"We're so sorry, sweetheart," Redd said softly, moving to put a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm fi--I'm okay," Sean corrected himself with a little sideways look at Nate. He swallowed and visibly pushed the thoughts aside, looking back at Slym. "So... the Askani will help us?"

"They should," Slym affirmed confidently. ~I hope.~ He looked at his sons solemnly. And hopefully without asking more than they were willing to pay.

Continue To Chapter Five

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