You have the key.
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.
from “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” T.S. Eliot
Her voice was quiet, the glow in her eyes less fierce than melancholy. She had been in prison a week, and Mika could clearly see the effect it was having. Even so, he wondered if the loss of freedom–of flight–wasn’t more painful than the prospect of starvation.
The bat’s gaze sharpened slightly, with a touch of impatience, and he realized he hadn’t answered her question. “Yes. Well.” He glanced at Dahlu, who sat beside him, looking uncomfortable. “I haven’t made any decisions. I’m not going to do that until this is resolved.”
“If I get out of here I’m going straight there,” Revar muttered, picking at the wire mesh separating them with thw claws of two fingers. “Don’t wait around for me, k–” She cut the word off at Dahlu’s visible wince.
“There’s a lot to resolve,” Mika said, taking a deep breath. “Are they doing anything to get you food?”
“They’re trying. I guess.” She smiled thinly. “They keep giving me raw meat.”
“That’s not going to help you.”
She shook her head. “Probably worse for me. We don’t have great digestive systems. The doctor here’s been trying to learn about us and he’s been telling them I need blood. I think they’re gonna go to a hospital or something.”
“That won’t help, either!” Mika’s tail lashed.
Revar shrugged tiredly. “Not like they’re gonna throw me a derelict.”
“I don’t know what else we can do,” Dahlu said, looking away. “We can’t get the trial moved forward, we can’t get you out, we can’t get you… food…”
“You and Mika getting along?”
Both cats looked up at Revar with expressions of surprise. Dahlu was the first to speak. “I don’t know. I can’t blame you for what’s going on between us.” She shook her head.
“Yeah, you can,” Revar said, leaning back and sighing.
“It’s time,” a guard standing on the bat’s side of the room called. “Hurry up, please.”
Revar stood up, sighing again. Mika stood too, pressing his hand to the mesh. She traced it lightly with one claw, making the wire rattle, and led the guard out of the room as if she were the one in charge. Mika turned toward the door.
“I don’t know if she’s right,” Dahlu said, still sitting, almost motionless.
Mika turned back to her, but didn’t say anything in response.
“That’s the funniest part,” she continued, not looking amused. “That you’re even thinking of going to Raneadhros to pursue your art should make me happy.”
“Why doesn’t it?”
“Because if you do, now I don’t think you’ll come back.” She rose to her feet. “And maybe because I’d been trying for years to get you to this point, and in the end, I’m not the one who did it.”
Mika ran a hand through his headfur, his tail lashing.
She walked past him out the door.
“I’m not seeing how this helps.”
Mika straightened out his slouch and tried to focus on whoever had just unexpectedly spoken to him. Too much light behind her for him to recognize, but the voice was familiar. Dimly. “How what helps?”
“That,” she said, gesturing with a brown paw to his half-empty stein. She slid into the bench opposite his and stared at him across the booth’s table.
“Oh. You,” he said, squinting. “Orlonda. Right?”
She nodded. “We’ve all heard about you. A little. She really likes you, you know.”
“That’s your fourth one. You been here half the night.”
“It’s my seventh,” he said. “Started before you got here.” He looked past her at nothing. “Maybe I should quit work.”
Orlonda reached across the table and yanked the mug from his hand. “Between you and me we might be all the friends Revar has left. And that means she needs us to be doing more than sitting around getting our whiskers soaked.”
“I’ve tried everything I can,” he said miserably.
“Getting her trial date moved up?”
“Getting charges just dropped.”
Mika laughed bitterly. “Oh, right. Let’s go convince Skit of that.”
“Is that so impossible?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” He spread his hands. “She turned the tables on him, maybe even made some of Dahlu’s rich friends think about the way they saw the world. He can’t stand that.”
“Still sounds like you–we–need to talk to him.”
“Great,” he said, taking his mug back from her. “We’ll just march right up to his front door and tell him he’s going to drop charges.”
“Revar is dying,” she said flatly, baring her teeth. “Unless you got any better ideas, let’s goddamn march.”
He just stared at her.
The idea didn’t work, of course. It was late evening by the time he tracked the fox down the next day and took her uptown to Skit’s loft, several blocks away from Dahlu’s home.
Skit raised his eyebrows when he opened the door, then turned away. “I suppose I’ve been expecting you,” he said. “Come in.”
“You’ve got to drop the charges against her,” Mika said without preamble.
The dog sat down on his plush, light brown couch and regarded the cat with what looked like honest puzzlement. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Because she’s dying.”
He looked blank. “It’s only two more weeks, isn’t it?”
“She’s starving. They’re not going to give her blood.”
Skit snorted, sounding annoyed now. “Maybe someone can volunteer.”
“It’s already been so long that she might kill the next person she feeds.”
“That’s not my fault, and if you’re trying to convince me that she’s not a danger to have running free you’re not doing a very good job of it with that.” Skit rose and poured himself a drink from a little bar against one wall. “Would you like something?”
“All we want from you,” Orlonda said, “is to go drop the damn charges.”
“And you are?” Skit said, studying her skeptically. “One of the bat’s friends?” He waved his glass. “I know you want me to be the villain, but I’m not the one who committed the crime here.”
“You’re the one who assaulted her in the first place!” Mika snapped. “You’re lucky she didn’t file charges against you first.”
The dog sighed, rolling his eyes. “That’s not the sort of thing she’d do. People like her don’t go to the authorities. They rip out the throats of people they don’t like.” He took a sip of his whiskey. “And don’t think she’d have spared a second thought about ripping out Dahlu’s, either.”
“You don’t know a damned thing about her,” Orlonda growled. “She’d only attack people who gave her a reason.”
“Or when she needed to,” the dog said calmly. “That’s the whole problem here, isn’t it? Frankly, if she’d just stayed down by the docks and not come back to our neighborhood she wouldn’t be in any risk now.”
“You mean if she knew her place,” Mika said with a snarl.
Skit inclined his head in silent assent.
“You goddamn bastard,” Orlonda snarled, stepping toward him with her fists raised.
He narrowed his eyes. “Oh, go ahead. Let’s rack up another assault charge.”
Orlonda glared up at him, then pushed him hard enough to make him spill his drink before walking back to the cat’s side.
Skit cursed, setting down the glass and wiping at his shirt, no longer keeping any venom from his voice. “Dahlu’s been trying to lift you up for years without you showing the slightest appreciation. Instead you slum around with ruffians, and when one of them tries to choke her to death your instinct is to side with her attacker. You’re disgraceful. Get your damned priorities straight.”
Mika stalked toward the door. Orlonda followed closely, but turned to spit at the dog. “When Revar gets out I’m giving her your street address.”
Skit narrowed his eyes.
“He doesn’t have anything to worry about,” Mika muttered. “I don’t know what the hell’s running through his veins, but I’m pretty sure it’s poisonous.” He ushered the vixen out and slammed the door behind both of them.
Prisoners could only have visitors one day a week. By the time Mika returned for his second visit, Revar had been in for over two weeks, far past the time she said she could go without blood. It had only been two days since Mika had last been at the station, though; he and Jack had tried, once again, to find some way to get food to the bat. Jack claimed one of the Guards owed him a big favor–something about saving his life during a border skirmish some years back–but his friend couldn’t find any other strings to pull. They’d already gotten Revar blood from a hospital, but they weren’t willing to put someone else’s life in danger to feed her.
The station’s waiting room was obscenely cheerful, a spotless brown shag carpet perfectly complemented to the plush furniture, pleasingly lit by the soft glow-plates in the ceiling. A counter ran the length of the room down the middle; behind it, the carpet stopped, and a more mundane array of desks and files stretched back to the wall and a large door that led to the prison cells. The Rilima that Mika had just spoken to made a beeline for this door, stopping at the desk just behind it and exchanging inaudible questions and answers with the cold-looking human male who sat there.
After far too long, the rat returned to the counter, heading toward the lower, left end so he could see over it. “I’m sorry,” he said, his tail flicking violently, “but that prisoner is no longer able to accept visitors.”
“What?” Mika reached across the counter, almost grabbing the rat’s lapels and lifting him over it.
“She’s under constant watch,” he replied, his tone apologetic. “She started a fight yesterday.” He started flipping through the papers the desk guard had given him.
“Was she hurt?”
“No. Not seriously. But she attempted to… uh… bite out the throat of one of her fellow inmates.”
“You kept her locked up with someone? Are you all insane?”
The rat set down his papers. “Excuse me?”
“I told you she needed food! I’ve been saying that since she got here!”
“She wasn’t locked up with him, but prisoners mingle at–are you saying she was going to eat the other inmate, sir?”
“Just drink his blood.” He noticed the rat’s wide-eyed expression. “She’s a Derysi. That’s what they do.”
“Hold on.” He picked up the papers and riffled through them hurriedly. “Yes. Yes. This says we’re trying to get her food. We’ve been trying.”
“By giving her things she can’t use, yes.”
“We can’t break laws to help this prisoner, sir.” The rat looked pained. “We–we don’t have any rules for this.”
“I don’t care about your rules.”
“We have to!”
Mika gritted his teeth. “Did the blood from the hospital help? At all?”
“Not… substantially, according to the physician.”
He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “She needs sapient blood now, then.”
The rat closed his eyes momentarily, then dropped the papers. “Sir. I truly am sorry that what we’re doing isn’t going far enough, fast enough. But we’re trying everything we can short of deliberately throwing another prisoner in with her or using ourselves. The first is illegal and the second is too much to require. Bluntly, we’re not sure if it would even be legal for us to ask for volunteers.”
Mika clenched his fists, looking up at the ceiling until he was calm enough to speak again. “Then what do we do?”
The Guard sighed heavily. “I don’t know, sir. I wish I did. If her condition deteriorates we can transfer her to a hospital.”
“And how likely will they be able to give someone legally under your care live sapient blood?”
The rat looked back at him for several seconds, then just shook his head, very slightly.
Mika stared at the Guard, seething, then stomped out of the building.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. You’ll knock the bloody door down that way.” Mika stopped pounding when he heard the voice and waited.
The sound of tumblers turning came after another moment. Jack stood behind the opening door, surrounded by the aroma of brewing tea.
“How well do you know that Guard friend of yours?” Mika asked.
The fox blinked, scratching his chest fur. “You’re going to want me to do something that’ll require putting my shirt on, aren’t you? Come in.”
Mika closed the door behind him, sitting down on a low backless chair–more a thick, wide cushion with chair-like pretensions. “Like I think I said,” Jack went on, “I know Verell pretty damn well. Go back a long time. Longer than either of us’d care to admit.” He laughed, then tilted his head. “But he can’t do anything for Revar. We’ve looked into it.”
“They’re killing her,” Mika said flatly.
Jack sighed and started to pour himself some tea. “Mika, I’m sure Revar doesn’t trust the Guard and I can’t say I blame her, given her background, but–”
“No.” Mika gestured angrily with his hands. “Listen. I know they don’t want to kill her but they can’t legally help her. And she’s… getting desperate.”
Jack stared. “She didn’t attack someone, did she?”
“Yes. And you know she wouldn’t have done that unless she thought she didn’t have any other choice. She’s not going to make it to the trial. She just won’t.”
The fox picked up his tea and headed over to sit by the cat, brooding silently as he sipped. “So what do you want to do?”
“We have to get her out, Jack,” Mika said. “Now.”
“Verell and I talked about that and I’ve told you that. We can’t just…” His voice trailed off as he looked at Mika’s face, at the expression, and he realized just what the cat meant. “You mean a jail break?” He set the mug down with a bang. “Have you lost your mind? I may be adventuresome compared to most in my circles, but there are adventuresome things and then there are ‘go to jail for life’ things.”
“You don’t have to help. Except for getting Verell to do it.”
“Oh, that’s all!” Jack threw his hands up in the air.
“Listen,” Mika hissed. “She’s still in the guard house in Dahlu’s neighborhood, and that barely has any security. It’s barely meant to be a prison. You know the courtyard in the back?”
The fox nodded.
“Nothing there’s stopping someone who can fly from going right over the fence. Verell would just have to get the guards to leave her alone and unrestrained.”
“I did say ‘oh, is that all’ already, didn’t I?”
“How hard could that be?”
Jack sighed. “We’d have to get her courtyard privileges, because she’s probably lost them. We’d have to get the Guard to leave her there unwatched, which they’d never do unless she was restrained. Which means we’d need to free her and get her to fly off, all in what I’d bet will be a very short window, without either of us being seen. And get you a cover story that keeps you out of jail when the Guard comes knocking on your door an hour later. And Verell. And me.”
Mika thought a few more moments. “Okay. Verell just needs to, I don’t know, have some kind of crisis inside the station, right? Something that calls the other Guard in to deal with it, leaving Revar there in restraints. If we’re in the area, we get her restraints off and get her over the wall. Or just me. You can be out of it. If I get caught, I get caught, and I at least have a hell of a good excuse in my defense.”
Jack ran a hand through his head fur. “Good defense. Maybe. Judicial officers have a lot of leeway to consider the surrounding circumstances. If it’s really this or letting Revar die, maybe we stay out of jail. We acted when they couldn’t.”
“You believe that has even a slight chance of working?”
“I…” Mika shook his head. “It doesn’t really matter.”
The fox sighed and poured himself another cup of tea without speaking, and without offering a cup to Mika. He drained it, still in silence, then looked over at the cat and sighed again. Then he went into the bedroom and came out carrying a shirt.
“There’s got to be another way to do this,” Jack grunted.
“Enough bitchin’,” Orlonda snarled softly.
They crouched, with Mika, behind a tall iron fence around the small courtyard. The moon was high in the sky, or would have been if the night hadn’t been overcast. That was good. It made them less noticeable. Verell had said that prisoners always came out with two Guards; Mika hoped the other one would be human, like Verell himself. Most of the zoomorphs’ night vision would be good enough to pick them out the instant they moved.
Verell had just stepped out from the single door set in the prison’s blank stone wall. He wandered aimlessly–or at least it appeared aimless. When he came close to the fence, he said softly, without looking in their direction, “She’s coming.”
After an interminable length of time, the door opened again, and another Guard stepped out. He was human, and he was gently leading Revar.
Her arm was around his shoulder, but only because he held her hand in place with his own. Her body dragged so limply it was hard to tell if she was even walking under her own power. The bat’s wings slid audibly over the grass as she moved.
“No ties at all. She’s not restrained,” Jack breathed in Mika’s ear. But the cat didn’t reply; instead he bit his lower lip, trembling. It was obvious there was no reason to bind her.
Verell jogged over to help. “There you go,” the first Guard said, unhooking her arm from his neck. She staggered, starting to fall; he caught her and gently lowered her to the ground. She sat and stared at the stone wall. Verell didn’t move, looking extremely self-conscious. Mika hoped it would be mistaken for concern over what the Guard had let happen to Revar. Maybe it really was.
“Lords,” the other Guard said, kneeling down beside the bat. “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”
She whispered something slowly, painfully, that only the Guard could hear. He smiled a little wryly. “That’s not going to happen.”
Revar bared her fangs at him, then turned back toward the wall.
The Guard stood, sighing. “You sure there weren’t medical orders against moving her?”
“Just to keep her away from other prisoners,” Verell said. “And like you said, fresh air might do her some good.” He turned and paced.
“Stop looking nervous, idiot,” Orlonda whispered.
“Sometimes I think we should have turned the other way and let her finish off Bilker,” the first Guard said, shaking his head. “I know that’d be kind of murderer against murderer, but…” He trailed off, then grunted. “Bad situation all around.”
“Yeah. Hey, do you think you can watch her for a second? I should go back and fill in the paperwork on bringing her out here.”
Verell nodded and walked into the building.
“Now what?” Orlonda whispered.
“Keep waiting. He said he’d get rid of the other one, too. You still with us, Mika?”
The cat nodded dumbly, unable to take his eyes off Revar’s crumpled form.
“We have a new plan?” Jack murmured. The original one they’d come up with together–such as it was–consisted entirely of Mika crossing the fence, cutting Revar’s restraints with a knife Orlonda had lent him, and jumping back over as the bat flew off. Stupidly, he hadn’t counted on her not being able to fly.
“I go over the fence and get her,” Mika murmured back.
Minutes passed. The Guard stood by the door, slowly smoking a cigarette. He didn’t even watch Revar. She wrapped her wings around her torso and stared up at the sky.
The door to the station opened and Verell poked his head out, saying something to the other Guard. “Shit,” the smoker said clearly, disappearing into the building after Verell.
“What did he say?” Orlonda whispered.
“Don’t know, doesn’t matter,” Jack said, standing up and swinging a rope over the fence. They had practiced at the park. This fence, ironically, was an easier one to scale.
“Your turn, cat,” he continued, addressing Mika. But the Melifen had reached the top of the fence before Jack had even let go of the rope, swinging it over to the other side as he jumped down.
“Hurry,” Orlonda hissed, gesturing wildly. Jack stood by the rope, watching, his expression filled with doubt.
Mika reached Revar’s side, and picked her up in his arms. She’d always been light, but now she was frighteningly so. As she began to struggle, he hissed, “It’s me.”
“Mika?” Revar whispered, focusing on him. “What–”
“No time.” He ran back to the fence, jumping onto it as he grabbed the rope. When he got to the top, he lowered her–as gently as he could–into Jack’s arms, unhooked the rope from the fence and leaped down.
“Uh–” Jack said.
“Go!” Mika said, running away from the station.
Jack and Orlonda ran after him, the bat cradled in Jack’s arms. “Where are we going?” he puffed.
“My–no. We can’t. What’s nearby…” He thought furiously. “The park. It’s close, and it’s locked up. So they won’t look there. Not for a while, at least.”
“If you say so,” grunted Jack. “It’s been about two minutes, and Verell only guaranteed he could keep them occupied for about five. When he gets back, he’s going to have to be out here after us too, you know.”
“Then keep running and shut up,” Orlonda wheezed, putting on speed.
“Oh, I wish I hadn’t done this,” Jack muttered, increasing his speed as well.
After an interminable time–less than five more minutes of running, but it felt like hours–they reached the gate. “How are we going to get over the wall?” Jack said. “If you climb down, you’ll leave the rope, and you can’t jump ten feet with her in your arms.”
Mika took the rope and threw it over the wall, latching onto the top. “I’m going to have to.” He took Revar from the fox, shouldering her lightly, and climbed up the rope.
“Mika, this is a really bad–”
The cat crouched at the top of the wall, pulling the rope up and throwing it int the park, then looking down. Okay, he thought, you’ve made jumps like this when you were a kitten. It’s one of the things cats are supposed to be able to do, right?
He took a deep breath, lifting Revar up, and jumped.
A second later his feet hit the ground; he let his legs flex as loosely as possible, and his rump followed them into the grass, hitting painfully. Revar let out a little whuff!, staring at him in amazement.
“I think I hear running up the street,” Jack said tensely.
“Then get out of here,” Mika said. “As long as you’re not around, maybe you won’t be suspects.” He ran into the darkness of the park, not waiting for a reply.
When he’d lost sight of the gate, he slowed, walking the rest of the distance to the fountain. He set Revar down, guiding her gently to a sitting position beside him.
She looked terrible. The ebony of her eyes had become clouded, and her breathing rattled. While she’d always been rake-thin, her appearance now showed the difference between that and emaciation.
Truthfully, Mika had considered the possibility of her not being able to fly away. He just hadn’t discussed it with the other two. The plan had been crazy enough as it was; Jack likely wouldn’t have gone along with a still-riskier one.
“Well,” she whispered. “Now instead of assault charges, I have assault charges and escape charges.” She wheezed. “Not sure this is a real improvement.”
“If they can’t do anything for you, we had to. We have to get you someplace safe, then fed. It would have been easier if you could fly, but…”
“Don’t think I can even walk now.” She tried to laugh, but it became a wracking cough, and she squeezed her eyes shut, holding her stomach with one hand.
“After the Guards leave the area, we can get you out somewhere,” Mika whispered, talking a little too quickly. As Revar held her stomach, he felt a pain in his own. “You can get… something to eat.” Someone, he amended silently. “When you get your strength up–”
Revar gently touched his mouth with a claw. “Mika,” she whispered. “Listen to me.”
He stared at her numbly.
“I’ve seen this… before. Once. Know what’s happening.” Her voice caught, and it took her a few seconds to go on. “I’m… too weak to feed now. And I’m not gonna make it until sunrise.”
“Dammit, you’re not going to die! We can–”
“Shhh.” She rested her head against his chest. “Just hold me.”
Mika put his arms around her, shaking violently.
“I hope you haven’t fucked up your life by doing this.” Her voice dropped back down to a bare, almost inaudible whisper. “But I’m… so glad I got to see you again.” She closed her eyes. “Such a crappy way to end a love triangle, huh? I really thought I’d go out more grandly.”
“No. No. We can–I don’t know–”
“Hold me,” she repeated, more softly.
Mika started to cry, hugging her tightly, hands pressed into her soft wings. She hugged him back weakly, dropping against him. Her breathing grew relaxed. In sudden panic, he wondered if that meant she was fading, if she was going to die right now, in his arms.
He lost sight of her through his tears for several seconds. Then he slowly breathed in, trying to calm himself. He’d thought about this possibility, too. He’d tried to block it, but it had been there. And while he’d never been a great planner, this time he’d known he had to be.
“If you got blood,” he whispered hoarsely, “could you fly out of here?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“But it would keep you alive? You–you’d recover?”
She sighed, slowly, thinly. “Maybe.”
“Jack and Orlonda will be back if I don’t show up in an hour or so.” I hope. “They could take you home with them.”
She smiled for a moment, then her expression slowly grew hesitant, frightened. “Mika, what are you thinking?” she whispered.
He stroked her wing, then pressed her chest along his own, tilting his head back and pressing her muzzle against his neck.
Revar stiffened, her eyes opening wide. Then she started to struggle against him.
“Do it,” he said.
“I can’t.” She turned her head away, squirming in his arms. “I won’t!”
Reaching down to his waist, he took Orlonda’s knife and brought it up in front of her. Then he laid the blade against his throat. “Its teeth or yours.”
“Are you insane?” she wheezed. She grabbed his arm with both of hers and pulled. Even in her weakened state he could feel her strength, but he could fight against it now.
Steeling his muscles made the blade dig slightly into his neck, enough to hurt. He couldn’t tell if he’d drawn blood yet. “I’m going to open my throat one way or another,” he said hoarsely. “Make it do you some good.”
“Please,” Revar gasped. “You’ll bleed to death!”
“With the knife, yes. With your teeth, maybe not.”
“Yes, you will! I won’t be able to stop. You know that. You know I’ll take… too much.” Her eyes were sad and accusing. “I love you.”
“You’ve given me more than I can ever tell you,” he whispered, running his fingers through her thick stripe of hair. “I love you too much not to give this back.” He bent down and kissed her mouth gently. Then he guided it back to his neck.
Her lips were open against his fur forever, her breath hot, the occasional touch of her tongue hotter still. Tears ran down her face, her eyes closed. Her heartbeat and the darkly erotic movement of the almost-kiss were the only signs that Revar still lived. “Please do it,” he finally breathed, stroking the length of her spine lightly.
Sobbing out loud, she bit.
Pain lanced through him. Mika realized she wasn’t strong enough to go through his flesh all at once, and he tried not to cry out as she chewed. He wondered if it would have hurt this much when she was in good health.
The pain didn’t go away after a few seconds like he had hoped. It got more intense, joined by a dull throb. The blood flowed freely, but he couldn’t tell if Revar was taking any or not. He just felt it slipping out of him.
He held her and leaned back in the grass until he was prone, with her stretched out on top. If someone had walked by, he would have thought they were making love.
Mika wrapped his arms around her, caressing the base of her spine. She moved slightly, and he felt her tongue flick around the wound, then in and out of it. Now he could hear her drinking. He shivered, fighting with his own survival instinct.
After a minute had passed it had become easier to ignore the pain, the sounds, even the stars. He closed his eyes, lying still, feeling her tears flow onto his face as if to replace the blood.
When he opened them again, it was hard to tell the difference. Wasn’t sight one of the first senses to go? Even if he wanted to fight her now, he’d no longer be able to. His body felt glued to the ground.
He passed his remaining time watching the light go away, star by star.
“You’re awake,” a voice said. “And I imagine you’re feeling like a lower level of hell.”
The room came slowly into focus, a field of white surrounding the face of an obnoxiously cute otter woman. Of course, all otters were obnoxiously cute.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” the voice continued. He decided it must be the otter’s. “If so it’s a marked improvement. Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Radgers.”
“About bloody time,” someone else said. Jack? Yes. He recognized the voice. “You’ve been out three days.”
“And lost an incredible amount of blood through a very messy wound,” the otter continued. “To compound it all you’re a fairly rare blood type. We not only went through what we had on hand with you, we needed to find an immediate donor. To say you’re lucky to be alive is quite an understatement.”
Mika turned his head slightly, to see Dahlu sitting to his left. Despite the streaks of tears in her fur, she smiled now, looking like she might cry again from relief.
“Well.” The otter leaned over him, checking on his bandages. “I’ll let you be, but before we release you the Ranean Guard is evidently going to have questions for you.”
“Great,” he croaked. His throat felt like a cactus.
The otter lifted her brows, and walked out.
“So I’m…not dead,” Mika whispered.
“It wasn’t for lack of trying,” Jack growled, leaning over him him. “If we hadn’t come back to find you, they would have just had one hell of a horror scene when they opened the park the next morning.”
The fox sighed. “She’s alive.”
Mika let out a sob of relief, closing his eyes, and took a deep breath. Then he opened his eyes again, picking up on the note of tension in Jack’s voice. “And?”
Mika sat up, ignoring the pain. “Gone? You just said–”
“I don’t mean she’s dead, I mean she’s gone.” The fox shook his head. “She was passed out when we got there, just like you. At first I thought we had two corpses. Orlonda took her back to my apartment while I took you to the hospital.
“So,” he rested his arms on the bed, “by the time I got back, she was asleep. I didn’t think she was going to wake up for a long time, but…when I came home from work, she wasn’t there. Orlonda says she’s not back at her old place, either.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry.” Then he leaned forward again, glaring. “And you’re an idiot.”
Mika swallowed, leaning back against the pillow. “I can’t even become a martyr right,” he said with a faint smile, then frowned. “Does she… think she killed me?”
“We all did, for a while,” Dahlu said softly.
Mika sucked in his breath.
“They used some serious magic to keep you a step over clinically dead while they scrambled to find a blood donor, and as it was I think we were down to under a half-hour before you finished dying when we realized we had the donor,” Jack said.
Mika leaned back into the bed. “I was hoping you’d get there, but I didn’t… count on it.”
“You’re lucky I’m an idiot, too. And lucky for her.” Jack nodded toward Dahlu.
“I know. I really am. And I’m glad you’re willing to be here,” Mika murmured to her.
“That’s not what I mean,” Jack said, sounding exasperated. He reached over and lifted up Dahlu’s arm, showing a thick bandage around it.
Mika stared. “You’re the donor?”
She sighed, and half-smiled. “There’s at least one way I’m still your type.”
“They took enough to knock her out for a while. It was…worrisome. You’re both idiot martyrs.”
Mika smiled weakly, then sat up, kissing Dahlu as passionately as someone in intensive care was able to. She hesitated at first, then returned the kiss, leaning against him.
When the kiss ended, Mika motioned Jack to lean over again. “How much does the Guard know?” he murmured.
The fox sighed. “They know Revar escaped, they know she had help, and given that you’re lying here with half your blood replaced and a big hole in your neck sewn up it’s not real difficult to put together what happened. You’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story soon and I suggest you keep hammering on how it was this or letting her die.”
“Do they know… who else was involved?”
Jack shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “Guess we’ll find out. From what Verell’s suggested the best option is to tell them everything and ask for clemency based on extenuating circumstances.”
Mika swallowed. “And Revar?”
He shook his head. “She’s still got the assault charge to face, and if she doesn’t turn herself in, the escape charge.”
The Melifen sighed, leaning back on the bed.
Jack stood up. “Now that there’s not much reason to stand vigil over you I’m going to go get back to some overdue work. It’s good to have you back, you idiot.”
“Thank you for everything,” Dahlu said warmly.
He grinned. “I can’t say it wasn’t an adventure, but I think I’ve had enough adventure for the season.”
After he left, Dahlu moved to sit on the edge of Mika’s bed, one leg resting on his thigh, and put a hand on his chest. “So,” she said softly. “Now that you can’t escape it, we need to talk.”
Mika smiled wanly. “It’s going to be hard to say no to someone who just saved my life.”
“That’s what I’m counting on.” She leaned over. “When this is past–when you’re out of here, and hopefully not in jail yourself–go to Raneadhros.”
“What? I don’t…” He trailed off. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave you.”
“But you want to be with her more,” she said, sitting up again. “I know you think you’re torn. But Mika, you love her enough to die for her.”
He bit his lip.
“I’ve been–thinking a lot. It’s not just that I don’t want you to stay with me and pine for her. I don’t…” She sighed. “You liked the idea of the high society girlfriend and I liked the idea of the bohemian artist boyfriend. I’ve been pretending that any day now you’d abandon your life and live in mine. But you never will, no more than I’d abandon mine and live in yours.”
Mika swallowed. “I’m not sure that’s fair.”
“Which part is wrong?” she said, smile sad.
He looked down, remaining silent.
“I really do want you to follow your art. And we both know that means going to Raneadhros.” She took a deep breath. “And we both also know that’s probably where she’s gone.”
Mika looked back up, then took her hand. “You know you’re an absolutely amazing person.”
“Yes,” she said, with just a hint of a smile.
He wrapped his arms around her, closing his eyes.
“I expect you to come to visit.”
“I mean it,” Mika said. They stood outside Jack’s flat; Mika had given up his a week ago, selling off most of his furniture and sending the bits he couldn’t bear to part with on ahead to a storage locker in Raneadhros.
Dahlu laughed, swishing her tail. “I know. And I mean it, too.”
“You always have such a busy schedule.”
“I’ll make time. Maybe as soon as spring.” She gestured his backpack and the small carrying bag on the doorstep. “That’s it?”
“And my portfolio.”
Jack came past them, carrying a suitcase bigger than Mika’s pack even though the fox was only staying there a week. The hired carriage had arrived just a few minutes earlier; Jack and the driver started loading bags on.
“And you’re sure Jack’s friend in the city has space for you.”
“A spare room, yes. It’s smaller than my flat, but it’ll be enough for a few months.”
“Do you think this should be leaving this late?” As she spoke, Jack loaded on Mika’s bags, too, and the portfolio.
Mika grinned. “It’ll be fine. There won’t be that many people on the roads, and the temperature’s nice for traveling.”
She nodded. They looked at each other, while the driver and Jack leaned against the carriage waiting.
“So this is it,” Mika said. “I’m… not quite sure what to say now.”
Dahlu moved forward and took both of his hands in both of hers, looking into his eyes. “Goodbye.”
Mika gave her a soft kiss on the lips. When he started to pull away, she pulled him back, putting her hands on his shoulders, and deepened the kiss, holding it for long seconds, purring softly. His purr joined hers.
“Take care of yourself,” she said softly when she drew away.
“You take care, too.” He stepped into the carriage, sitting beside Jack. The driver climbed up into his seat.
Just before the carriage started to roll forward, Dahlu called out, “Do you really think she’ll be there?”
He put his head out the window, looking back at her. “Yes. I do.”
“Be happy together,” she said, making it sound almost like a command. She turned and went back into her house.
The carriage moved forward. Mika looked up at the sky as it picked up speed. The sun had almost set, and the full moon had begun to rise, the light caught between deep orange and delicate blue-white. The light breeze felt cool against his fur. It was, indeed, a perfect time to be traveling.