Author's Notes: All right, I know I've been quite a bit more than slow, but I didn't know where to go from that point, and, as you can see by this ridiculously short chapter, I'm still unsure of where I'm taking this next. I know where I want it to end up, but I know nothing of the journey in between the start and the finish. Again, I apologize for taking so long, but I hope I'm going to be keeping up with both the stories now. And please tell me if you like or dislike the story. Reviews work wonders for my self esteem, and a happy author is a fast author! J

Gabe had acted odd when he first happened upon her, but after his Companion nudged him forward and he fell, sprawling against a very indignant Damon—again complaining he was being degraded and abused—Christa got him to confess that even he knew that she was not to be let out of her room until her training was well under way. They were deep into that very discussion when they heard hurried footsteps right outside the Stables.

"If I were a Trainee and I wanted out, I'd bet my life that my Companion would want to spend that time with me. I'm telling you, Ruben, she's in the Stables." A gruff, old voice sounded just on the other side of the wall. They actually heard a creak of wood as someone leaned on it.

"I don't think she would stick around, Garther. She probably hopped on her Companion and want out into the Field to hide in some alcove. That's what I would do." A younger voice responded, sounding very sure of himself.

"Well, we're right here, so there's no harm in looking now. Besides, we can warm ourselves up for a moment before charging back out into the cold if she's not there," Garther said stubbornly. Apparently he knew just the buttons to push on Ruben, because his reply was almost instantaneous.

"Yes, I suppose there's no harm in looking anyway." Ruben replied, obviously wanting any excuse to get out of the cold. Christa shot a stunned look at Gabe, who frowned before quickly taking her by the arm and propelling her into Alina's stall. Damon quickly gathered what he was doing and lumbered to his feet, kicking the hay back in place soundlessly before clomping into this own stall to munch hay absently. Alina shifted her body so that most of her bulk was between Christa and the stall entrance, while Gabe snatched up a currycomb and began worrying at Alina's coat. He hadn't gotten more than three strokes in before she heard the two guards enter the stables. She snuggled down into the straw as much as she could, hiding her head behind Alina's rump, where here white hair would seem part of the Companion's silvery tail.

"Boy, have you seen a young Trainee with whitish hair? She's rather stumpy but thin-like. She's rather new, so I doubt you've seen her before." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gabe stop his brushing and look towards the doorway. He had a pleasantly inquiring look on his face that made Christa's heart throb painfully once before returning to normal. He looks so handsome… She thought quietly, hoping Damon didn't hear; if he did, he made no comment.

"I don't believe so. I've been here for almost a mark now, and I must say it's been quite deserted," Gabe said smoothly. Christa shrank back just a little, Alina shifting again to hide her better, as she heard the footsteps of the men coming closer.

"It doesn't look to me lie you've been grooming that there Companion for a mark, boy." Garther said roughly, with a suspicious edge to his voice. Christa could see Gabe's face harden just a bit; his eyes getting cold, but he answered in a polite enough tone.

"Well, Sir, I've been talking to my Companion. She just deemed it right to inform me a few moments ago that she would like to be brushed." He answered softly as Alina's head swung to the guards and she nodded with a snort.

"Ah well, if you see that girl, be sure to send her back to the palace. She needs her rest and to be trained, neither of which she's going to get while gallivanting about." Ruben said, shuffling his feet a bit.

"I didn't hear no talking going on in here, boy," Garther said gruffly.

"I have the Gift of Mindspeech, Sir," Gabe said, sounding vaguely as if he were reminding a child that it had said something stupid.

"Right. Sorry, then, boy. Carry on, but like Ruben here said, be sure to send the girl to us if you see her." Garther did not sound sorry at all. Christa could hear the two walk out, Ruben complaining about the cold. When even their crunching footsteps faded away, Gabe turned to peer in at Christa.

"That was a really close call. I think we'd better get you back to your room. Is there any way to get you back in without stirring up the entire Collegium?" Gabe mused, trying to think of what they would do.

"I climbed out the window," Christa said as she stood up, trying to brush straw off herself. Alina moved to the side as she stumbled out of the stall. "I could try to get back in that way, I just hope no one is in there waiting for me. If I've been missed, they're obviously going to want to know where I am, which means they're waiting for me somewhere. Probably everywhere." Christa turned to Alina with a smile, pausing long enough in getting the straw off herself to run her fingers through her silky mane. "Thank you so much. I really don't want to go back just yet. I feel like such a prisoner in that room. They wouldn't let me go to the bathing room, the privy, anywhere. I just needed to get out for a while." Alina whickered softly and nuzzled her chest.

"I wonder why they have you under guard like that. No doubt the ones guarding you got a tongue lashing to remember for years to come." Gabe said from behind her. She felt a slight pull at the back of her head as he combed out some straw, then she felt his hand run lightly down the length of her hair, clear to her waist. Christa fought down a shiver and turned around slowly.

"I don't know. They won't tell me anything," Christa murmured as she gazed up into his eyes, feeling as if she could drown in them. Gabe was looking at her in a way she knew was a bit more than friendly, but she couldn't seem to move or speak. His hand went to her cheek, his head slowly bending toward her face with his lips slightly parted. It seemed to take an eternity, and Christa instinctively knew that when their lips touched, something would happen, something wonderful. But just when their lips would have touched, there was a sound near the doorway, and Christa and Gabe both snapped their heads around to see a very angry Donelle staring at the two of them in dismay.

"After our talk, Christa, I would have thought you understood enough to listen to our orders and trust in our judgment. And yet, here I find you, in the deserted stables trysting with no regard to orders placed with your—as well as everyone else's—well being in mind." Then Donelle shifted her gaze to Gabe. "And you—I thought I made it clear that you were to watch over her, not lead her about to run amok. You were to make sure she was all right, and then, upon your request, keep her company. But I see you cannot even manage the former, and I now see the underlying reason for the latter. You are hereby to stay clear of Trainee Christa until she has had the proper training for someone of her Gifts." She probably would have said more, but Christa, becoming slowly enraged throughout this little speech, cut her off.

"How dare you accuse us of trysting, when you only interrupted what would have been a harmless kiss. As for my trusting your judgment, as far as training goes that is true, but I do know what is good for my own well being, and being locked up in solitude in one single room like a princess from some tale, never seen but heard of, is ridiculous. I need to be out in the world. Did it ever occur to you that I might be afraid of enclosed spaces? I could have passed out from fright, were that the case. As it was, I was feeling restricted and confined, and in desperate need of a little walk. You don't even know what my Gift is, let alone how to train it. In the meantime, as long as no one tries to kidnap of kill me again, I think everyone is safe. Now let me do as I wish, or I will surely explode again if you keep me confined, out of sheer rage and frustration!" Christa said all this with barely a pause for breath, and knew, when she was done, that her face was red, her eyes a cold, angry steel. She caught and held Donelle's eyes, but this time, the woman looked forlorn, her eyes cast rapidly from Christa to Gabe and back.

"Gabriel, you must never speak of this. Do you understand me? Never. What you just heard, you put to the back of your mind as if it never happened, or there will be a great price to pay for all involved, and it will be well out of my hands, as well as the King and Queen. Christa, this is neither the time nor the place for such discussions. I hope that in the future such things can be said in private and not out where they can have dangerous repercussions. I do apologize, however, that I acted like a barbarian by locking you up like I did. You are completely right, and deserve every privilege that every other Trainee has. I will have the guards removed form you door, but you must agree to tell me or the King or Queen—and now Gabe if he is more convenient—if you feel strangely. If anything in your head feels as it did when you used your Gift. Can you do that?" Donelle's eyes were pleading with Christa to agree.

"I will, I promise. But I hope there will be no need for this discussion in the future." That answer seemed sufficient for Donelle who nodded, and, with a slight hesitation as she glanced at Gabe, walked out the door without further ado.

There was an embarrassed silence inside the stables, during which Damon and Alina looked silently at their Chosen, before Gabe burst out. "I'm so sorry about that, Christa. I never meant to get you in trouble. I don't know what came over me…" He almost seemed to be speaking to himself.

"There's nothing to apologize for, Gabe. What would have happened was—mutual," Christa said, blushing. She discovered she liked Gabe very much, though after such a short time, she didn't know how that was possible.

"Well…I'm sorry for that too, but I meant about Donelle. Sometimes she can get…overprotective." Gabe said, sounding sheepish.

"Overprotective," Christa asked, looking genuinely puzzled.

"I don't suppose she told you before, considering how things were, but Donelle is my mother."