Look Down To Camelot

From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Damaged Goods---Part 3 by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, May 26, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: About last night.... by Victoria Victrix (Monday, June 06, 2005)

(posted Monday, May 30, 2005)



“You,” said Greymalkin, from the top of the television set, “Are looking remarkably calm.”

“I feel like a wreck,” Vickie muttered. She had gone into a frenzy of cleaning this morning, and had spent the afternoon making some specific “sensory” preparations for Red Djinni’s arrival. Then, of course, she’d had to go to her closet and stare at the contents, which to be frank, looked more like they belonged to a Poetry Major than—

--than the young woman she used to be.

Or maybe a dark/dark defender. Black, charcoal, black again.

But—wait, in the back of the closet—was that color? Shoving aside the soft black slacks and long-sleeved, high-necked black and charcoal-colored sweaters and tunics she found—

A present from Mom, hung up and forgotten, never worn. A pair of buttery soft suede jeans, a knitted silk turtleneck, and matching gloves, all in a warm amber-brown, the pullover a shade darker than the pants and gloves. Perfect.

Bless you, Mom.

She resolved to spend some time on the net later, updating her wardrobe. She didn’t want Red to think she was a Goth.

Not that she didn’t feel like one a lot of the time. It was probably only her own sense of humor that kept her out of that scene. The music was good, though….

Washed, brushed, dressed, and subtly perfumed with French Vanilla from Victoria’s Secret (Mom again), she emerged from the bathroom and turned for Grey’s inspection. “How pleasant,” Grey observed, slit-eyed. “Color! He won’t think he’s come to a poetry reading.

“How’s the scent-level?” she asked.

Grey sniffed. “Just about right.” She cocked her head to one side, “And just in time, too. Hark! I hear an unfamiliar footstep in the hall.”

Vickie cast a final, not-quite-panicked look around the room. The stack of DVD boxes next to the player, check. Scent diffusers loaded and waiting, vanilla going, check. CD Player loaded, check. Work tidied away—

Too late. A knock at the door. Running her gloved hand nervously through her hair she went to answer it.

For a moment, she didn’t recognize him. No flames, no glowing eyes, no “Kevlar-based polymer” suit, just—a man, scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face, red muscle-t, jeans…reddish skin—

He looks like Vin Diesel, she thought, with surprise. Only—nicer. The eyes above the scarf, hard to see through the flames sometimes, were now eloquent in their expressiveness. Kind, a little anxious, a little surprised to see her in “civvies,” perhaps.

“Milady,” he said softly, and gave her a florid bow. “Red Djinni, reporting for Amber’s Tarantino Fest.”

She smiled, butterflies in her stomach. “Welcome to my writer’s hole,” she said, and stepped aside so he could come in, and waited for the scent to hit him.

His eyes widened. Definitely a pleasure-reflex. Ah. A good thing I used the expensive vanilla. She had thought about chocolate first, but vanilla scent was somehow more…substantial. And, she thought, comforting.

She preferred low lighting these days; the only bright light was an Ott lamp behind the recliner where she usually worked with her laptop. Under other circumstances, with another woman, the atmosphere might have been taken as a setting for seduction. For her, it was just another way of hiding in shadows. Her color-scheme, now that she came to think about it, matched her outfit; warm browns, ambers, a touch of cream and red, here and there. So she very much fit the room--

No flames. I wonder why?

His eyes were still wide. “I—ah—couldn’t get wine on short notice, I brought single-malt,” he said, handing her a carefully wrapped bottle, then laughed nervously. “OK, I’ll admit it, I got a bottle off Rory and he doesn’t have anything as sissy as wine. Not sure where the liquor stores are in Founder’s Falls…” His voice trailed off.

She took the bottle, pleased that her hands were trembling only a little. “Thanks—I’m sure we’ll make good use of it.” Well, he would; single-malt was a little strong for her, but she had a well-stocked bar already.

Not that a descent into alcoholism had ever been a temptation for her. It was mostly that other people, at a loss for what to give her, tended to send her bottles of expensive booze. Publishers, editors, the few old friends she still kept in touch with—

--Elves—

She added the bottle to the collection, and turned to see him examining her belongings. She wondered what he would make of them. They were expensive; romance writing paid well. Plasma TV, top-of-the-line sound system, TiVo, flanked by floor-to-ceiling DVDs on one side and floor-to-ceiling CDs on the other. The other three walls, books. Only three pictures; two of her Mom and Dad, one of them a standard “portrait” pose, the other with Dad in full werewolf mode and Mom in what Vickie called “full witchy drag.” The third was sister Val, looking serious and scholarly in her academic robes. Merlin College Oxford was a stickler for tradition; students wore their robes and hoods at all times.

There were a few, a very few, knick-knacky things on the shelves. Mostly tiny carvings in semi-precious gemstones, but there was a (genuine) Neolithic Goddess statue in mammoth ivory, an exquisite little unicorn carved of alder wood, and a hand-blown glass phoenix rising that she had only today unpacked and put there. It had once seemed bitterly ironic; now it felt like hope.

She wondered what he was thinking.

#

“Get a grip Red,” he muttered, his eyes scanning her collection. “It’s all good, you’re here to relax, get to know a new… friend. That’s all.”

But his heart was racing, the vanilla wave had sent a powerful rush coursing through him. It had been a while since he had tasted something so sweet. He was used to the putrid smells of the sewers, the oily mess of Paragon’s industrial areas, the dry musk of caves…

The warmth of this place seemed to go out of its way to be inviting. In fact, everything this woman did or possessed, seemed to invite him. And that, in a way, was alarming. In anyone else he would have suspected a trap.

But she never left the house. This wasn’t a trap, it was a refuge, the only place she felt safe. No wonder if it felt inviting, right? The fact that he found it just as inviting also shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? This was a sanctuary.

Pictures… her family. None of her. He wanted to see her, as she was before, as she wanted to be again. Something to think about, but for later. She was hurt, and wary, and he knew he had to be careful.

“I’m nervous,” he thought, astonished at himself. “Talk to her, stop pretending to be so interested in her stuff. You’re here to be with her, not her things… whoa, she’s got all of Joss Whedon’s stuff on DVD…..”

#

Grey sauntered in; where she had gone to, only Grey knew. Cats, after all, could walk through walls, and familiars were doubly good at it. She inspected the visitor from the vantage of the doorway, behind Red. “Well,” she said.

Red froze, and turned, slowly. Grey looked up at him, with that “cats may look at a queen” stare. “Well, well,” she said.

“Ah—“ Red began as Grey did a widdershins walk-around, tail in the air. She made two complete circles of him, and Vic was perfectly prepared to swoop down and grab her if she tried to make a third—this was not the time nor the place for familiar mischief.

Grey stopped at his feet after the second circle and looked up again. “I feel as if I have ants crawling all over me,” she said, in a matter-of-fact voice. “It’s the anti-allergen spell,” She looked him up and down one more time. “You’re probably worth it.”

Red’s eyes widened still further, as Grey turned her attention back to Vickie. “I’ll be in the bedroom,” she announced. “There should still be some Full Metal Alchemist and Ghost In The Shell on the TiVo. I’ll try not to erase it, but no promises.” And with that, she sauntered into the bedroom pausing only long enough to snag the catnip mouse Vickie had refilled just before she changed.

Vickie realized belatedly that Red was now staring at her. “What?” she asked.

Both eyebrows rose. “TiVo?” he managed. It sounded strangled. She couldn’t tell if he was strangling on laughter or disbelief.

All she could think of to say was, “Cats can use remotes,” and quickly turned on the TV and the DVD player.

“A friend of mine,” she said, a little nervously. “Says that every Tarantino movie starts with Quentin walking in to do a pitch, getting a sale, tripping on the way out, and picking up the pages of the script at random and forgetting to put them back in order again.”

He laughed. It was as nervous-sounding as her quip, but it was a real laugh. “That would explain a lot,” he replied.

“So, you know about me. Where are you from, originally?” she asked, unable to think of anything better.

#

“Nowhere, everywhere,” he said. “I was raised in Toronto, maybe the only city in Canada Americans know about apart from Vancouver and Montreal. Doesn’t matter, wasn’t there long enough. I, uh, left after these powers came about. Started drifting.”

He paused, not sure how to proceed. Instead, he took a seat on the couch and watched as she sat next to him. The space between them seemed wrong, but he was careful.

Let things happen as they will, he thought. And calm down for Christ’s sake.

Vickie sat on the edge, her frame still but eyes darting. She looked up at him once, caught him staring, and her eyes flashed down.

He hasn’t said anything about the place, she thought. Customs, the niceties of flattering one’s home, were an easy place to start. Nothing, about it… or me.

The last wasn’t reasonable; it would be a bit forward. But they were past that, weren’t they?

“This is really something,” Red started, as if reading her mind. “Been awhile since I’ve been somewhere so warm and friendly. I suppose when your home is your office, it tends to get cluttered, with both comfort and things to energize your creativity.”

She smiled, moved by his attempts at grace.

“And you look wonderful,” he added, almost blurting it out. In his thoughts, he clammed up. Too soon?

She gave him a look, shy but grateful.

Say something! She demanded of herself, but was saved by Tim Roth.

“I love you hunnybunny.”

They both drew quiet breaths of relief from the interruption. Settling in, they began to watch. “Royale with Cheese” made them both laugh, and Vickie slowly reclined in her seat. The movie was familiar, and she began to relax. Plus, leaning back afforded her a better view of Red. She watched as his eyes softened and hardened with the scenes, his chest rising and falling as he laughed. She laughed with him and shared his glances of mirth.

She stopped the movie just before the scene where Marvin is shot. He gave her a funny look, and she bit her lip. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said reluctantly, “But as much as I like this movie, I can’t watch that scene. Too much like—like the things that happen around here. Stupid, stupid thugs doing stupid things and people get hurt or worse.”

His eyes widened, and she continued, suddenly filled with bitterness. Of course, it would hardly matter to him, up there in the alta plana of heroes who could fly, who had “outleveled” AP, who could live in Founder’s Falls without worrying, who didn’t have burglar bars on the windows….

That was one reason why she liked Bella and the others in the CCCP. So many of them were in that bracket—yet there they were, still in King’s Row, still patrolling the neighborhood every day and night before going out on higher level missions. Walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

“I’ve lived here for more than two years,” she said into the silence. “I’ve been living like a citizen, mostly. I can use a little magic to defend myself, but when there are more than two thugs at a time I still have to run like a girl and hope some other lowbie with a real offensive power will show up in time…..and I’ve seen the aftermath of thugs whacking each other, lying in the street, waiting to be collected like garbage.”

More silence; she couldn’t look at him right this moment. “Another reason not to leave the house,” she added. Her hand holding the remote shook. “So, do you mind if I fast-forward through this?”

She felt his hand come to rest on hers.

“I live here,” he said quietly.

“What?” She looked up, and was acutely aware of how close he was now. His look was direct.

“Here, in King’s Row. I live here. Founder’s has my Aerie because I find Numina’s courtyard peaceful, a place to think. I patrol Founder’s and Brickstown because…”

His voice took a slightly bitter turn, and he shrugged with a grunt.

“… because there are Crey there.”

Slowly, deliberately, his eyes found hers again. “But King’s Row is where I lay my head.”

“Oh,” she said, a bit bewildered. “But… why? A hero with your clearance…”

“Keeps me grounded,” he replied simply. “Besides, with the Clockwork out in force here these days, it pays to keep close. Fast-forward.”

“Hmmmm?”

He looked down to the remote, and gently pulled back into a comfortable recline. “Feel free to fast-forward through this. Watching Marvin get shot always gives me the heebie-jeebies too.”

She smiled at him, nodded, and they moved on to the next chapter.

#

Well her tirade hadn’t driven him away, and as the credits scrolled past she decide she needed some of what her Mom called “the courage.”

“Drink?” she asked, cueing up the next, “Kill Bill Part One.” On the way to the little bar section of the kitchen, she had extinguished the vanilla scent and turned on the air-cleaner.

“Scotch. And matches, please?” The second took her a moment, then as she reached for the bottle, she realized that he must mean to light it and inhale—

So, not the thin-walled snifter then. She picked a thick ceramic saki-cup instead, took a matching one, and poured herself a Drambuie. Normally she went for something more girly, but…she was in need of a stiff drink.

By that time, the air-cleaner had pulled out most of the vanilla. She turned on the electric diffuser that had the chocolate-scent, and carried cups and matches back to the living room. Handing him his, she started the movie. As she had thought, he lit the Scotch and inhaled—

Interesting. Scotch should go well with chocolate…

She sipped her drink, but her attention, as during “Pulp Fiction,” was really on him, and not the movie. Given his powers of fire, she should have been terrified of him—but she wasn’t. In fact, for the first time in—well, since she crossed the threshold of the Morrigan’s Keep—she felt attraction, real attraction, to a man, and it both excited and terrified her. There was desire, oh yes, real desire there—which, if she let herself even think about it, would send her into torrents of despair, because no matter how kind, how compassionate he was, her body would never excite anything but revulsion at worst and pity at best….

But he likes me. He likes my conversation, he likes how I think—

That would be enough. That would have to be enough.

Think of it as Heloise and Abelard in reverse…without the monastery and convent involved. She looked up from her drink as she thought that, and found herself unexpectedly locking gazes with him.

She couldn’t look away. She didn’t want to either. She had often written the phrase, “She fell into his gaze,” but she had never had a moment when she actually felt that happen before.

She finally caught herself getting a little light-headed, realized she had been holding her breath, and broke the contact, covering it by looking down at the empty cup she still held at chin level.

“Ah—refill?” she asked.

“Sure.” He held out his cup; comfortably warm to the touch, even through her gloves, with those portions of her hands that could still feel warmth. She took both back to the bar, and this time, poured herself a double.

“Red,” she said, as she started to pour that drink for him. “There’s a better way to do this. Assuming you want a little alcohol-buzz as well as the phenols.”

The tilt of his head told her he was listening.

“My scent-diffusers; they’re little warmers that take oils and things up to about the simmer stage. They’ll evaporate all the Scotch—if you don’t mind a cup that’s got a power-pack on the bottom, is kind of heavy, and gets pretty warm.”

He considered that. “I’ll give it a try.”

She dug out a new one—no point in contaminating good Scotch with even a few molecules of anything else—gave it a good rinse, and filled it with a double-shot. He always had the option of turning it off.

“Amber,” he said, as she handed him back his drink. “Is that harp in the corner a souvenir, or just a decoration?”

She had to laugh at that. “Oh, no, the opposite. I play. Knight-Mages have to master the old non-combat skills of a really accomplished medieval knight, which includes either music or chess. And I don’t much care for chess.’

The movie didn’t have much of her attention, and it seemed, did not have his, either. “All I ever heard about was fighting—“

She turned the TV off. “Courtesy—which is not only good manners, but some fairly complicated etiquette that also involves knowing the Elven social hierarchy pretty well. Chivalry—which is what it sounds like. The Elves also require the ability to converse well and intelligently, and to tell a good story. Since we’re Mages, a certain amount of scholarly ability comes with the territory, but we have to know at least three languages—in my case, English, Latin, Elven, Hungarian, and Gaelic. And mastery of at least one Art.” She gestured at the harp. “By ‘mastery’ they just mean ‘competence.’ I’m no Bard…but I enjoy it. And…it was part of my physical therapy. At least when I was playing, I got pleasure along with my pain…” Her voice faltered a moment, then she smiled. “I can play a little for you, and if you’re bored, just say so.”

“Please—“

She didn’t need more invitation than that.

This was one of the larger harps, about half the size of a concert-harp; comfortable to sit with, but not a lap-harp. It was in perfect tune; another small spell, but not hers, gift of the teacher that had given the instrument to her. “Nothing is more irksome than to wait whilst the student or performer fiddles with the strings!”

She changed scents again; this time to cinnamon and allspice softened with another hint of vanilla. If she couldn’t feed him—

Then she took the harp in her arms like a lover, leaned her cheek against the silken wood, and began to play. Her first two pieces were O’Carolon of course, and wordless, but when he didn’t indicate boredom, she moved to a song. She didn’t have Bella’s magical voice, but she knew, because she had been told, that her singing was good. Breathy, perhaps a bit like Enya.

Ba dheas an lá go oíche
Na glórtha binne i mo thaobh
'S aoibhneas i gach áit gan gruaim
Áthas ar mo chroí go deo
He-a-ro
He-a-o-ro

Ma shiúlaim ó na laetha beo
An ghrian 's an ghealach ar mo chúl
Nil uaim ach smaointe ó mo shaoil
Deora ar mo chroí go brón
He-a-ro
He-a-ro
He-a-o-ro *

He nodded, watching her, eventually setting his cup aside and simply listening. She played another melody, then sang again—

Ag amharc trí m'óige
Sé mé bhí sámh
Gan eolas marbh
Bhí mé óg gan am
Anois táim buartha
'S fad ar shiúl an lá
Ochón is ochón ó

Na laetha geal m'óige
Bhí siad lán de dhóchas
An bealach mó a bhí romhan ansin
Bhí sé i ndán dom go mbeadh mé slán **

Too apt, too apt that one, if only he had known….”Looking back at my youth I was content. Without dead knowledge I was young, without time. Now I'm sorrowful
Those days are long past. Sadness and loss. The great days of my youth. They were full of expectation. The great journey that was before me then. Happiness was in store for me ….”

She let the last notes fall, then quickly began another.

Once you had gold,
Once you had silver,
Then came the rains
out of the blue.
Ever and always.
Always and ever.
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

Now you can see
Spring becomes autumn,
leaves become gold
falling from view.
Ever and always.
Always and ever.
No-one can promise a dream come true,
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

What is the dark;
shadows around you,
why not take heart
in the new day?
Ever and always.
Always and ever.
No-one can promise a dream for you,
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you. ***

Yes…better….

And she looked up, to see that his eyes were closed., and the slow rise and fall of his chest told her he had fallen asleep. She smiled, flattered rather than otherwise. Poor man—she had suspected he was over-worked and under-rested. At least he felt safe enough here to sleep. She got up long enough to cover him with a light throw—and to briefly touch his hand to see if he would awaken. He didn’t.

That was when Grey showed up, vaulting lightly onto the back of the sofa.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

“The poor lad needs to sleep,” Grey said, flicking her tail. “Go twiddle your strings and leave this to me.” Grey eased herself down into a hollow in the throw, and curled up in it. The familiar had a number of magical spells available to her, but the one that had literally saved Vic’s life and sanity, over and over, was the one that allowed the person she was curled up on—or with—to sleep, either dreamlessly, or with only pleasant dreams. It was a mark either of Grey’s favor, or that the familiar felt Red was important enough to Vic to warrant the special attention. Whichever it was, Red Djinni was about to have one of the most peaceful naps of his life, and Vic felt her lips curving in a smile at the thought.

She went back to her music and lost herself in it.

#

On either side of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road run by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.


Red didn’t dream, or at least he hadn’t in a while. The dreams had stopped at their most painful. But now, he was flying, and the air was crisp, the sky clear, the landscape lush with greens and blues. It was the stuff of his favorite legends. A majestic city in the distance, crowned with a castle of white and tall slender spires. Happy, busy peasant workers, knights riding with immaculate grace, and the feel of magic in every detail.

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay,
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The Knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady Of Shalott.


He rushed low and sped along a river, feeling the foam of the rapids fly across his shoulders and spray his features with diamond lights from the sun.

And here, a tower, stalwart but sad.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady Of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode back to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
he flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra Lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot

Amber sat at a lofty window, playing her harp. Red felt his breath, a sharp intake of air, as he gazed on her magnificence. She was beautiful, elegant, unmarked, her hands a blur of ivory as they danced across the strings…

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance -
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

The melody was moving, uplifting, but her face of stone. She did not blink, was motionless save for her arms. Her sadness cut into him, he felt himself wanting to go to her. But he cannot, he cannot move. He can only float, and listen, and watch.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to towered Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

She stopped, turned, and finally, her expression melted into a glorious smile.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott” ****

She was not meant to be there. She had so much more to do, to give, than song from a high cage.

Red felt awash with cold. He shivered, not remembering the last time he had felt such chill. Surprised, he looked down at himself.

“How long have I been naked?” he wondered, as the shock and a deep purring stirred him from sleep.

His eyes fluttered open, and he drowsily met Greymalkin’s gaze, mere inches away. The cat blinked, a look which seemed to bestow a benediction and a warning to stay still. Red obliged, his eyelids drooping once more, feigning sleep.

Bright are the flames, light the way to Arcadia
And when the darkness comes, let the fallen know peace once more

Will you lay down your arms when you hear the sound of thunder
For they who stand alone must surely find their way to you, to you

Time alone can heal the deepest wounds of our innocence
For love without intent, ever strong and always to defend

For we have the life within our hands, the power to change things
If only for a day find the perfect heart within your world

If only for a day find the perfect heart within your world
It lies here, in Arcadia in silence, always live on in silence
Knowing

It lies here in Arcadia *****

Again, Red found himself wishing he could smile. Her voice… danced. It soared.

His eyes opened, and watched Vickie’s hands drop, a faint smile playing on her lips, her face serene. He wanted to protect that smile, to protect her hope.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep,” he managed in an audible whisper.

She looked up at him, and the smile grew.

Greymalkin gave him a satisfied look, and gingerly hopped down off him. He got up, looking somewhat abashed.

“I, uh, should go. Patrolling, y’know.”

#

“If you fell asleep, you needed to,” she replied, out of the depth of her own experience. “And I understand needing to go; you’re a busy guy. At least you’ll go rested.” There was relief that she would have her space to herself again, but mostly---mostly overriding everything was disappointment. If only he could stay….

There was some awkwardness at the door; both of them stood there like a pair of kids, afraid to touch, and wanting to. Finally, he reached for her, tentatively. She caught herself just before the automatic reaction of pulling away and looked up into his eyes again, caught and held there, and forced herself to relax---

Although she did not have to force herself to smile, even if she was shaking inside.

She closed her eyes as she saw him accept the invitation; felt his arms go around her, felt—felt something inside that had been dead, or sleeping, come alive again—

It couldn’t last, of course. She tensed, he felt it and let her go. She opened her eyes again.

“I guess it’s goodnight, then,” she said. “Good luck out there.”

He nodded. “Thanks. And, I don’t suppose—is it too early to ask for a second date?” And before she could answer, he started to open the door. “Just think about it—“

She was hit by an adrenaline rush so hard she felt dizzy. Her mouth said things before her brain could censor them. “I don’t have to think about it,” she said, as he got halfway into the hall. He turned quickly. “The answer is yes. Please. Your pick this time.”

“Ah—“ He looked bewildered and elated all at the same time, and probably felt as confused she did—and maybe, just maybe, as happy. “I—“

“You have to go,” she said for him. “Merry meet, and merry part