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," by T.S. Eliot
Her voice was quiet, the glow in her eyes less fierce than melancholy. She had only been in prison a week, but Mika knew she hadn't really eaten since four days before that. 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. Uh, well, he said he'd keep them for another week, but he didn't think I'd be able to sell either one in this market. He thought I should go to Raneadhros."
"I wish I could join you," she replied softly. "And you, if you go with him," she said to Dahlu. She picked at the wire mesh separating her from them with the claws of two fingers.
Mika smiled awkwardly. She knew he had no intention of leaving here, especially without her. Dahlu looked worried, uncomfortable; he was surprised she had come with him to visit the bat. "I'm trying to get you some sort of... food."
She smiled thinly. "So are they. But they're idiots. They keep giving me raw meat."
"Is that all they'll do for you?"
"They didn't believe I was beginning to starve until yesterday, when some asinine physician said I was looking a little sick." She sighed. "And I don't think they're going to throw me a derelict."
Dahlu shivered involuntarily. "I can't get your bail," she said.
"I know." Revar's tone was the friendliest he had ever heard her use toward his girlfriend. "But I know you tried."
"I don't know what else to do. We can't get the trial moved forward, we can't get you out, we can't get food for you...." Dahlu's voice trailed off.
"Are 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.
"But you'd like to." A hint of mischievousness sparked in Revar's eyes.
"Hurry up please, it's time," a guard standing on the bat's side of the room said. Revar stood up, sighing dramatically; 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.
"What is going on between us?" Dahlu asked, still sitting. "I don't know whether you're just upset, or drifting away for good."
"Maybe we were never as close as we thought," Mika said softly.
She walked past him out the door.
"Pardon, but I don't see how this helps."
Mika straightened out his slouch and regarded the speaker. Too much light behind her for him to recognize the figure, 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."
"You're the fox," he said, squinting. "Orlonda."
She nodded. "We've all heard about you. A little. She really likes you, you know."
"That's your third one. You've been here half the night."
"It's my sixth," he said. "I've been here most of the day." He looked past her at nothing. "Maybe I should quit work."
Orlonda reached across the table and yanked the mug from his hand. "Get a grip, boy. 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. Convince Scat of that. She got him where it hurts most."
"I heard." She grinned. "An evil place to grab a man."
"Huh?" Mika looked confused, then waved the comment aside. "No, not that. That'd just hurt for a few hours." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "She got him in his pride. That'll never heal."
"So we need to talk to him."
"Great," he said, taking his mug back from her. "Just march right up there and tell him he's going to drop charges."
"You have any better ideas?"
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 went uptown to Scat's flat, several blocks away from Dahlu's home.
Scat 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 bulldog sat down on his plush, light brown couch and regarded the cat with some amusement. "And why would I want to do that?"
"Because she's dying."
"They'll keep her alive until the trial."
"They're not. And they shouldn't be holding her at all. If you and the damn mouse hadn't convinced the Guard she was too dangerous to go free on her own recognizance, they wouldn't be," he said.
"I doubt that." Scat rose and poured himself a drink from a little bar against one wall. "She was in the middle of attacking Dahlu, from what I heard. Anything I told the Guard was probably quite secondary." He sighed. "The fact is, I'm not the one who committed the crime here."
"The fact is you are," Mika snapped. "You're the one who assaulted her in the first place."
The dog sighed, rolling his eyes back. "All right. Maybe you think I'm being callous. If you were the next person she decided to kill--or the next person she drank a little too much blood out of--you wouldn't feel that way."
"Save the concerned citizen routine. You know the charges will be dismissed at the trial. You're just trying to torture her until then, and I don't think it bothers you at all that she might die before that, does it?"
"If she's as tough as she says she is, a little starvation isn't going to hurt her," the dog said calmly. "The worst that could happen to me is getting charged along with her at the trial, and I don't think that's likely to happen. I don't have a record and don't have a reputation for legal trouble, and come from a good family. I have standing in the community. What's she have? Fangs."
He shook his head in condescending disapproval. "If she had stayed down by the docks like she was told to, the Guard would never have caught her. In a year or two, they would have forgotten about the charges. But she didn't do that. And so she got nailed."
Orlonda stood in the doorway, staring at Scat. "You bastard," she suddenly said, launching herself at him.
He jumped off the couch; she crashed into its back as he regained his balance. The fox whirled around to face him again. He stood in front of her, hands placidly by his side, and grinned. "Go ahead."
"Let it go," Mika warned.
Orlonda glared up at the bulldog a moment more, than pushed him away and walked to the cat's side.
"If you're concerned about her starving, talk to the Guard," the bulldog said, sitting back down and picking up his drink.
"Fuck you," Orlonda said. He laughed.
Mika shook his head and walked to the door, motioning for the fox to follow. She stormed past him into the hall, her anger an almost visible black cloud hovering over her tail.
"Mika," Scat said, half-turning. "She attacked your girlfriend. Who do you care about more?"
"I care about both of them."
Scat frowned. "You have an odd way of showing it. I would take better care of such a treasure." He took another drink, dismissing them. "Have a pleasant evening."
"When Revar gets free, I'm going to give her directions to your apartment," Mika said quietly. "I hope she hunts you down and kills you. Slowly. Have a pleasant evening yourself."
Prisoners were only allowed to 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; the day after the ill-fated attempt to get the charges dropped, 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 a few years back--but there were no strings to be pulled.
The station's waiting room was obscenely cheerful, with a spotless brown shag carpet perfectly complemeneted to the plush furniture, pleasingly lit by the soft glowplates in the ceiling. A counter ran the length of the room down the middle; behind it, the carpet stopped, and a more mundane businesslike array of desks and files stretched back to the far wall and its large door that led into the prison wing. The Guard 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 Guard returned to the counter, heading toward the lower, left end so he could see over it. "I'm sorry," he said, his naked 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 has been moved to solitary confinement," he replied, his tone apologetic. "There was a fight of some sort yesterday...." He started flipping through the papers the desk guard had given him.
"Was she hurt?"
"Hm? Not seriously. She attempted to... uh... bite out the throat of one of her fellow inmates."
"You kept her locked up with someone?" Mika cursed. "I could have told you that would happen. Dammit."
The rat set down his papers. "Excuse me?"
"The day before yesterday I said she needed food. Badly. I've been saying that since she got here."
"You're saying she was going to eat the other inmate, sir?"
"Just drink his blood." He noticed the rat's wide-eyed expression. "Look, she needs blood to live. Haven't any of you figured that out yet?"
"I've never seen her," the rat mumbled. "Hold on." He picked up the papers and riffled through them hurriedly. "Aha. Yes, we are trying to get her food."
"And it's evidently not enough. Yet. We're still trying."
"What did you do, give her a steak?"
The rat looked annoyed now. "We can't break laws to help this prisoner, sir. The fact that she prefers sapient food does not give us authority to give it to her."
"Couldn't you bring her an animal?"
"It says that's been tried."
"Did you try a big animal?"
"How long have you lived in Rionar, sir?"
"All my life."
"Well, according to the prisoner, she can't use cold-blooded animals for food. And igla are the only meat-bearing herd animals in the area."
"What about--what are they called--cows?"
"The only cows in this city are cow steaks, sir. Cows are big, smelly, stupid animals that require four times the grazing land an igla does.
"We're trying to...." The rat cleared his throat. "We're trying to requisition a cow. But under the best of circumstances it won't be here for five days. We're not at all sure that delivering one to her won't violate animal abuse laws."
Mika glared at him. "What about prisoner abuse laws? How is she doing?"
"I don't really know--"
Mika grabbed the sheaf of papers and shook them. "In all of these, not one line is about her medical status?"
"I said I don't know." The rat yanked back the papers, rifling through them. "I'm afraid I can't help you with that, sir," he said after a moment. "It's against Guard policy."
"It isn't if your prisoners are doing well," Mika said softly.
The rat hesitantly nodded, looking down. "I'm truly sorry if what we're doing isn't far enough, fast enough. But our hands are tied, sir."
Mika stared at the Guard dumbly, then ran 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 a moment. Jack stood behind the opening door, surrounded by the aroma of brewing tea.
"How well do you know that Guard friend of yours?"
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. "How well do I know Verell? Pretty damn well. We go back a long time. Longer than either one of us'd care to admit; we wouldn't be able to keep lying about our ages then." He laughed. "You know, he's still working on trying to find a way to get Revar food. But he did get his point through to me. It's not like they can lock her up with someone and look the other way while she attacks them."
"Yes, they could have, but that's not important. She's in solitary now."
Jack, who had started to pour himself some tea, stopped and looked across at the cat. "That's not good. Not good at all." He sat down beside Mika, the half-filled cup temporarily forgotten. "She said she was able to keep herself from attacking people. That's what happened, isn't it?"
Mika nodded. "She is. She can't stop taking blood once she starts, but she won't start voluntarily."
"Then she must have been damn desperate." He rocked back on his cushion, leaning against an imaginary wall. "So what do you want to do?"
"We have to get her out, Jack," Mika said. "Now."
"I don't see how. Verell and I have...." His voice trailed off, stopped by an uncharacteristic edge in the cat's tone. "Bloody hell. I may be adventuresome in the tea party set, kitty cat, but there are adventuresome things and then there are highly illegal, insanely dangerous 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. "What do you expect him to do?"
"Listen. There's a courtyard in the back of the prison, and it's not very well guarded. Prisoners are supposed to get accompanied visits out there. It's in the Guard charter."
"And suppose she went out but didn't come back."
"And suppose Verell gets court-martialled. He doesn't owe me that much."
"There are a lot of Guard in that building. As long as he's careful nobody will know there even is an inside man."
"But once she's out there--"
"If she's left alone for a few minutes, we might not have to. She can just fly."
"They'll have her handcuffed."
"Then we get to her and cut them off. We could do that in under a minute."
"So much for me not helping." He stood up abruptly and finished filling his cup of tea, and started to gulp it down, still standing. "I don't know if I can go along with something like this, Mika. Helping a friend, pulling some strings, that's one thing. But we're talking about committing a felony on our own. Maybe you're prepared to defend yourself to the Guard if they catch you. But I'm not sure I believe they'll be in much sympathy with our cause."
"If you don't help, she dies. It's that simple."
Jack sighed and poured himself another cup of tea without speaking, and without offering a cup to Mika. He drained it, still in silence, and looked over at the cat, then sighed again. Then he went into the bedroom and came out carrying his shoes and shirt.
"There's got to be another way to do this," Jack grunted.
"Quit bitchin'," Orlanda snarled.
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 Guard; 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; when he came too close to the fence, he looked around nervously, then stood rigidly in place. "She's coming," he said, appparently to the night air itself.
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 limply; it was hard to tell if she was even walking under her own power. The wings slid audibly over the grass as she moved.
"She's not cuffed," 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 even more self-conscious than before.
"Can you hear me?" the other Guard said, kneeling down beside her. Her eyes moved slightly in his direction, and she nodded. "A week ago you'd have told us to drop dead when we came to get you." His voice held unexpected pity.
She whispered something slowly, painfully, that only the Guard could hear. The one by her laughed; she bared her fangs at him, then turned back toward the wall.
The Guard stood. "There might have been medical orders against moving her."
"I haven't seen any," Verell said. "The fresh air might do her some good." He turned and paced.
"Stop looking nervous, idiot," Orlonda whispered.
"You know," Verell said suddenly, "you never struck me as the type who'd feel sympathy for her."
"Shit, man. She's dying of starvation. If it was up to me, I would have just let her loose on Williams. See if he makes a damn smartass remark to her."
"Do you think you can watch her for a second?"
"I don't think she's going anywhere."
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.
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.
"I don't know, and it really doesn't matter," Jack said, standing up and swinging a rope over the fence. They had practiced at the park; this fence was actually much easier to scale.
"I hope you have some idea of what to do now," he continued, addressing Mika. But the cat was at 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.
"Come on," Orlonda said, gesturing wildly. Jack stood by the rope, watching, his expression filled with doubt. The entire plan had simply consisted of Mika crossing the fence, breaking her handcuff chains with a magic knife Orlonda had lent him, and jumping back over as Revar flew away. But the bat was obviously in no condition to fly.
Mika was at Revar's side, picking her up in his arms. She was frighteningly light. As she began to struggle, he hissed, "It's me."
"Mika?" Revar whispered, focusing on him. "What--"
"No time." He didn't stop to think about what he was doing; the part of his mind that had taken over was below his conscious mind. 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 the arms of a mystified Jack, unhooked the rope from the fence and leaped down.
"Uh--" Jack said.
"Go!" Mika said, running away from the station.
Jack ran after him, the bat cradled in his arms. "Where are we going?" he puffed.
"I don't know," he replied. "Back to my apartment."
"Won't that be the first place they'll look?" Orlonda said.
"All right." He thought furiously. "The park. It's close, and it's closed. They won't look there."
"If you say so," grunted Jack. "It's been about three minutes; Verell only guaranteed he could keep them occupied for about five. When he gets back, he's probably going to be out here after us too."
"Then keep running and shut up," Orlonda snapped.
"Oh, I wish I hadn't done this," Jack said, increasing his speed.
The city was almost deserted; even so, every person they passed, staring at the group in confusion, caused them a start. It would only take one Guard, passed by chance, to land them all back in jail with Revar.
After what seemed like hours, they were at 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 twelve 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.
"You're nuts," Jack said.
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, holding Revar up a bit, 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 something up the street," Jack said tensely.
"Then get out of here," Mika said. "As long as you're not around, you're not suspects." He ran into the darkness of the park, not waiting for a reply.
When he was out of sight of the gate, he slowed down, walking the rest of the distance to the fountain. He set Revar down, guiding her gently to a sitting position beside him.
She looked awful.
He had thought about the possibility of her not being able to fly away, even if he hadn't discussed it with the others. He knew if he had they certainly wouldn't have gone through with it.
"Stupid," she whispered, trying to smile. "Now... escapee 'stead of just assault."
"We've got to get you someplace safe. I was expecting you to be able to fly."
She laughed. "Can't walk." Then her laugh 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 said, 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. "Love, I'm dying."
He stared at her numbly.
"Final stage for us." She looked up at him, forcing herself to continue. "Surprised I lasted through the day. Won't last the night. Maybe... not hour." Her voice trailed off.
"Dammit, you're not going to die! We can--"
"Shhh." She rested her head against his chest. "It was too late days ago. Hold me."
Mika put his arms around her, shaking violently.
"Remember... first time here?" Her voice dropped back down to a bare, almost inaudible whisper. "Told you my life would... pretty short." She closed her eyes, almost smiling. "Wanted to go out... more grandly."
"Stop! 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; Mika panicked, wondering if that meant she was fading.
He blinked, losing sight of her through his tears for a moment. Then he slowly breathed in, trying to calm himself. He had thought about what to do if it came to this.
"If you got blood," he said hoarsely, "could you fly out of here?"
She shook her head. "Need... so much."
"But it would keep you alive for the night. 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; the effort looked painful. "I need more... than small animal has. Or small derelict."
Mika stroked her wing. "I know." He pulled away from her just a bit, 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.
Reaching down to his waist, he took the knife Orlonda had lent him and brought it up in front of her. Then he laid the blade against his throat. "Its teeth or yours."
She whimpered, grabbing his arm with both of hers and pulling. But she was so weak she could barely move it; he steeled himself, locking the blade in place.
"I'm going to open my throat one way or another. Whether or not it does anyone any good is up to you."
"Please," Revar gasped. "Stop... bleed to death!"
"With the knife, yes. With your teeth.. maybe not."
"But I'll...." Her eyes were sad and accusing. "Don't... make me do this. 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 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, encouraging.
She sobbed out loud, then bit.
Pain shot 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 been this bad when she was in good health.
The pain didn't go away after a few seconds like he had hoped. Instead it was joined by a dull throb. The blood flowed freely, but he couldn't tell if Revar was drinking 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 could have walked by then, 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. It occured to him that he could hear her drinking him down. He shivered, fighting back his own survival instinct.
After a minute had passed it was easy to ignore the pain, and the sounds, and even the stars. He closed his eyes, lying still, feeling her tears flow onto his face as if to replace the blood she was taking.
When he opened them again, it was hard to tell the difference. Wasn't sight one of the first senses to go?
It seemed she had been at him far longer than she had been at the derelict he had watched her feed from. Of course, how many times had she said she would always take as much blood as she needed? He felt kind of lightheaded. Even if he wanted to fight her now, he wouldn't be able to. His body felt glued to the ground, and it was as if he was getting smaller and smaller, all of him disappearing into her mouth.
He passed his remaining time watching the light go away, star by star.
"And are we feeling like the Eighth Hell today?"
The room--if it was a room--came slowly into focus, a field of white surrounding the face of an obnoxiously cute otter. 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."
Mika turned his head slightly, to see Dahlu sitting to his left. She looked like she had been crying. There was another fuzzy, foxlike form behind her.
"About bloody time," the foxlike form said, resolving itself into Jack. "You've been out three days."
Trembling, Mika lifted a hand to his neck, extending a finger. It sank into a mass of bandages.
"You can explain that later. But you probably won't. Nobody else will," the otter snapped. She stomped through the room door.
There was a deep silence. Everyone stared uncomfortably at one another.
"I'm not dead?" Mika finally said.
"No but it wasn't for lack of trying," Jack said, kneeling beside him. "If we hadn't come back to find you, they would have had quite an interesting corpse on their hands when they opened the park the next morning."
He closed his eyes. "Revar?"
"What about her?"
Mika sat up, ignoring the pain. "Gone? Where?"
"We don't know." The fox sighed, scratching his nose. "She was still barely strong enough to stand when we got there. We found her in a pile, near you, sobbing her head off. 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. The next day when I came home from work, she wasn't there. And that's all I know." He shook his head. "You're pretty brave for an idiot."
"Idiot," Mika repeated, leaning back against the pillow and smiling wistfully. "I can't even become a martyr right. Does she think she killed me?"
Jack nodded. "The last time Orlonda or I saw her, we thought she had, mate."
"Kitty cat, it didn't take a detective to figure out what happened between you two, and the blood she left was in the process of leaking out on the grass. When I picked you up, I couldn't get a pulse. I thought I was carrying a warm corpse to the hospital. And when I got here, all they could do was keep you a step above clinically dead while they looked for a blood donor." He snorted. "You would have the indecency to have a rare type to top it all off. They had to find a donor within about an hour, Mika. If we had missed getting the blood into you by another seven minutes, Revar would have been right."
"Ohhh...." He leaned back into the bed, almost curling up into a little ball. "But I expected to be dead anyway. I guess I was really lucky, then."
"It wasn't all luck," Jack said.
In answer, Dahlu raised her arm. It had a thick bandage around it. Mika stared at it.
"I told you I was your type," Dahlu said, smiling.
"They say they took enough to be dangerous to her, too, mate," Jack said. "Some of the doctors were afraid Dahlu might die trying to keep you alive. The luck is that there was an idiot martyr available for you, too."
Mika smiled weakly, then sat up, pulling Dahlu into bed with im and kissing her as passionately as someone in intensive care is able to. She wrapped her tail around him, threading it around a leg a bit suggestively.
Jack cleared his throat. "As far I know the jailbreak is still a mystery to the police."
"Maybe, maybe not. Verell says there's talk of suspending the sentence for escaping due to her physical condition--providing she turns herself in."
"And the original charge?"
"Still pending, as far as I know."
"Well, I have to be going." Jack waved and walked out of the room.
Dahlu sat on the edge of his bed, one leg resting on his thigh, her arms around him. "We need to talk," she said softly.
"I know." He kissed her again. "I owe you my life now." He spoke almost wonderingly.
"What kind of life is that?"
He looked at her quizzically.
She smiled and pushed him back on the pillow, stroking his chest. "Eventually you're going to have to make this choice. But I don't want you to put it off because you feel obligated to me." Her smile faded and she leaned closer, bringing her face down to within inches of his.
"I'm not going to follow you to Raneadhros if you go," she continued. "I can't, not yet. Too much of my life is here. All of the society Revar made fun of--that's part of me.
"But your life is different now. Maybe I had just always hoped it was the same. Everything's telling you to go away now, love. Your art. And now her, too. Orlonda told me she thought that's where Revar would go."
"I still love you," Mika said. "I don't know what to tell you. I... don't want to leave you."
"But you will," she said, gazing into his eyes. "I still love you, too." Dahlu kissed him again, nearly falling on top of him. He reached up and pulled her down on him.
"Hey," she giggled. "I don't know what you're thinking, but if it's what it looks like, you may not be strong enough for this yet."
Mika kicked off the sheets, then pulled them up over both of them. "Then be gentle with me."
After a few more minutes had passed, the otter doctor walked back in the room. "I think you can probably be released in another day, Mr. Radgers," she was saying. "You--oh, my."
Mika lifted his head off of Dahlu's chest, looking up at the otter in guilty alarm, but she was already gone, slamming the door behind her.
"Kiss her breasts later," Dahlu murmured, pulling his head back to her own.
"Will you ever come to visit?"
"I'll try." Dahlu smiled. "Maybe sooner than you think. There are advantages to being the sort of socialite your bat always made fun of--including lots of free time and money."
He smiled. "Please do," he said seriously. "I don't want to stop being a part of your life."
"You always will be." She looked at his backpack and the small carrying bag he had on the doorstep. "That's it?"
"That's it. And my portfolio."
"Of course." She hugged him again.
Despite her words at the hospital, she had put up a bit of a fight when he said he was going to move to Raneadhros. But he wondered if she hadn't fought just to make sure he thought as clearly as he could about what he was doing.
"Did Jack get in touch with his friend?"
"He wrote him and warned him about me." He grinned. "He'll be looking him up on the trip. But so far it looks like I'll have a room with him for a while."
"How long is Jack staying?"
"Just a week. Wezip doesn't have that much space, apparently."
"I hope he has enough for you."
"Do you think you should be leaving this late?"
"It'll be fine. Not that many people are out there now; besides, nobody's going to bother somebody built like Jack. The temperature's nice. It's the perfect time to be travelling."
They stared at each other; Mika suddenly felt awkward. He felt closer to her now, in a way, than he had in the two years they had been lovers. If they were not lovers now--and not whatever he and Revar were to each other--they were still something more than friends.
Of course, perhaps they had never been lovers in other than a physical sense. He loved her--But he didn't know if he had ever been in love with her. They had tried to build their relationship as much on lust as anything else; in a way, it was surprising it had lasted this long. That it was ending in such a wonderful way--perhaps not truly ending at all--was nothing short of a miracle.
He moved toward Dahlu, scooping her into his arms and kissing her a final time. He had meant it to be a chaste, gentlemanly kiss, but when he started to draw away, she pulled him back, thrusting her tongue into his mouth and finishing the kiss with a violence that made him slightly dizzy. "Wow," he said.
She moved her muzzle to his ear, nipping it in a way she knew he found maddeningly arousing as she breathed into it. "I want to make sure you have something to remember me by."
Mika stepped back, looking at her. She was beautiful. She had given him something to remember her by, all right. He grinned sheepishly, adjusting his pants. She noticed the action and giggled, making him blush under his fur.
"I'll always love you," she said softly.
"I love you, too," he said quietly, turning away and heading down the steps. The carriage depot was a good twenty minutes' walk. He started down the road, joined by his lengthening twilight shadow.
When he had gotten a hundred yards, Dahlu called to him again. "Do you think she'll be there?"
He paused and looked back. "Yes. I think so."
There was silence for a moment. "Be happy together." She turned and went back into her house.
The breeze blew coolly through his fur, and the rising moon was almost full, its pale light shading the world in delicate blue-white. It was, indeed, a perfect time to be travelling.