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Holt and Haven

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Naoto was tired, so tired that she had gone past the point of drowsiness into a place where the comfort of the mattress beneath her, the warmth of the blanket over her, and the soft breathing of the child beside her had no power to send her to sleep. Don't wake Nill, they had warned her when she went up to bed. But surely thrashing and tossing this way wasn't any more restful for the girl than a quiet exit from the room would be. Naoto rolled to her feet, grabbed the sword, and left, easing the door shut. All was quiet in the tiny suite of rooms above and behind the church, and she stepped carefully on the scuffed floor of the hall, mindful of creaking boards.

There were only two rooms downstairs, the Bishop's office and the kitchen-dining room. Naoto sat at the battered kichen table, wondering whether it would be all right to brew some tea. She could smell their evening meal, pasta and tomato sauce and sausage. The old refrigerator hummed on and off, the tap in the sink dripped, and there was comfort in the sounds, homely and ordinary and repetitive. Had she once sat like this at her parents' table, alone but somehow feeling safe? She could not remember.

Someone else was creeping down the stairs. Her feeling of safety snapped, and she rose silently, one hand on the hilt of the sword, the other on the scabbard.

The boy with the white hair, Heine, appeared in the kitchen doorway. His hair was even more tumbled than before, and his long coat was thrown over his bare chest and a pair of threadbare boxer shorts. "Oh. You."

Her heartbeat calmed. "Yes, me."

He turned to look back down the hallway to the door that connected the apartment to the church, apparently listening, and then nodded at her. "You're watching the door. That's not so dumb."

"Oh. Yes, but — really, it's just that I couldn't sleep."

"You look like you need to sleep. It's stupid not to, when you're in the right kind of place. It's safe enough here. I don't know what Bishop's deal is, but no one messes with him."

"Is that why you're here?"

He scowled. "I can take care of myself, but it's nice to be able to breathe free once in a while. And Nill didn't really have anyplace to go. Most of the other kids we rescued had families waiting for them."

"What about the other boy?"

"Badou?"

"Yes. He doesn't have anyplace to go either?"

"That buttmonkey. He has an apartment somewhere. He use to live with ... anyway, he likes it here better. Probably 'cause it's closer to where he can get work."

It was clear that Heine wasn't telling her everything. But if Badou thought this was a better place than where he really lived — for any reason — then maybe she was right to feel at least a little safe here. He looked like a survivor.

"Go back up and sleep," said Heine. "You look like something the refuse collection would turn down."

She was tempted to stick her tongue out at him, and by that very reaction, she knew that she was starting to like him. "I thought I would make some tea."

"That's really stupid, if you already can't sleep."

She glared at him. He glared back, then looked away. "Go on. See if I care."

"Do you want a cup too?"

"Oh hell, why not?"

Naoto smiled to herself and went to fill the kettle.