March 6, 2014
Dr. Wesley A. Canton was rummaging through the papers on his desk when the phone rang, startling him and making him drop several paper clips on the floor. He glanced at the caller I.D. and then picked up the phone.
“Harrison, you’re finally returning my calls. What took so long?” he said into the mouthpiece of the phone.
“I’ve been out of town,” Dr. Harrison replied.
“I’ve been talking to Hugo and according to him you’re both giving up on getting Kalinda. Is that true?”
“Yes, it is. We bit off more than we could chew last time. That assassin, Axiss, was there to protect her,” Harrison said.
“But you’re not planning to just give up are you?” Canton prompted. “You’ve got to try again!”
“Hugo and I have decided not to go back. She could make us a fortune, I know, but it isn’t worth risking our lives for.”
“Risking your lives? I hardly think you would be in any danger,” Canton scoffed. “She’s just a girl, after all.”
“As I recall, you were the one who was too cowardly to come with us the first time,” Harrison said defensively. “She’s not ‘just a girl,’ she has some rather frightening friends.”
“Yes, I know. Axiss the assassin. So you met him, did you? Now you can see why I decided not to come along. But if you’ve been watching the news you’ll know that Axiss is dead,” Canton informed his friend. “He was arrested and dealt capital punishment for his crimes. With him out of the way I thought I might come help you, and now you’re telling me that you’re too scared to go back?”
“Axiss may be gone, but he wasn’t our only problem. She has her brother watching out for her, and even she herself can be dangerous when she’s threatened,” Harrison argued.
“Kalinda? Dangerous? She’s a healer, she wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Canton scoffed.
“I thought the same, until she stabbed me in the arm with a knife,” Harrison stated. “I don’t think we should underestimate her.”
“She really stabbed you?” Canton asked. “Wouldn’t have thought she had it in her. But obviously you lived to tell about it, so it couldn’t have been too serious,” he reasoned.
“Maybe not, but my point still stands,” Harrison said. “The money isn’t worth the risk. I think we should let it go.”
“Are you kidding me? The police even took your side, from what Hugo told me. How can you pass up such a golden opportunity?”
“Well I don’t see you rushing in after her,” Harrison snapped.
“Maybe I will, now that the creepy guy is dead!” Canton shot back.
“Trust me Canton, going after that girl on your own is just plain foolish, and don’t expect Hugo and I to help you. If you want her, you’re on your own, but if you know what’s good for you you’ll take my advice and leave her be.”
“Fine, I’ll leave her be,” Canton grumbled. He slammed the phone down without waiting for a reply from Harrison. Deep down he knew he wouldn’t have had the guts to go after her anyway, even if Harrison had asked him too. He sighed and returned to rummaging around on his desk. Maybe someday I’ll get up enough courage to go get her, he thought. But not today.
Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101
February 27, 2014
It was a few weeks since Axiss had left, and I was sitting in the living room watching the news while May and Marie played with their stuffed animals on the floor. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the television; I was just staring at it while my mind wandered. I was thinking about Axiss, wondering where he was now and if he was ok. I didn’t have to wonder long.
Something on the TV caught my eye and I focused on it, than sat up straight when I realized it was a picture of Axiss. “An escaped serial killer known as Axiss was arrested this morning in New Hampshire and taken to the state prison in Concord,” the news reporter was saying. “Police informed us that the convict has already been dosed with the new Dissimilis drug in order to prevent any future escapes. Citizens can rest easy knowing that this time, Axiss will remain behind bars.”
I grabbed the remote and hit the power button, silencing the reporter as the television screen went dark. “No…” I moaned, resting my head in my hands. “Please, no.”
I was still sitting there when Ylva got home from work. She took one look at me and knew that something was wrong. “Kalinda?” she said, walking over and putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Axiss is in jail,” I informed her. “They’re using that new drug to keep him from escaping again.”
I felt the couch cushion shift beneath me as Ylva sat down. “I’m going to go see him again,” I decided.
“Kalinda…” she started.
“I’m going,” I said firmly, cutting her off. My mind was made up.
“Alright,” she said reluctantly. I could tell she thought it was a bad idea, but she knew she couldn’t talk me out of it. I stood up and pulled out my cell phone, did a few Google searches and then sat down and started making phone calls.
It took a long time before I was finally given an appointment to see Axiss. There were all kinds of hoops to jump through. In the meantime the news reports kept on updating me as Axiss was tried and found guilty for crime after crime. He didn’t even try to defend himself, he simply pleaded guilty. After a few days I stopped watching. The stories were too painful for me, and I already knew what the result would be anyway. Axiss would be in prison for the rest of his life. He wouldn’t be able to escape again while they were using Rakta’s drug on him.
After weeks of phone calls and paperwork my background checks were completed and everything was finally in order for me to visit Axiss. Shiva offered to come with me, but this time I wanted to go alone. I took a bus from Boston to Concord, and spent the whole drive trying to figure out what I wanted to say to him, since this was probably the last time I’d ever get to talk to him, but when I sat down on my side of the bullet proof glass I still didn’t know what I was going to say.
I had a feeling of déjà vu as I looked at Axiss through the glass. He seemed to be moving a bit sluggishly and I guessed it was a side effect of the drug they were giving him. He kept his head lowered, staring at the ground, and for several seconds we were both silent.
“I’d hoped this wouldn’t happen,” I said finally. He didn’t respond, and I swallowed dryly and tried again. “I probably won’t get to see you again, so…” I stopped as Axiss looked up at me, his red eyes meeting mine.
“Capital,” he said. One word. One horrible word. It took a moment for my brain to accept the meaning behind the word. They weren’t just going to imprison him; they were going to kill him.
“NOOO!” I screamed, flying to my feet and sending my chair skidding backwards across the floor. My hands were clenched in fists at my sides. This couldn’t be happening!
“Yes, Kalinda,” Axiss said quietly. My fists opened and I pressed my palms against the glass to steady myself. Tears began to spill from my eyes, blurring my vision.
“They can’t… they can’t do this,” I choked out.
“They can,” Axiss said, “And I deserve it.”
I wanted to deny it, to say that this was wrong and unjust, but I knew it wasn’t true. Axiss did deserve this, but I still didn’t want to see it happen to him.
I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how much I cared, how much I would miss him, how glad I was that I’d known him, but I couldn’t speak. My throat had sealed itself shut, but there was one gesture that I knew he would understand. I touched my hand to my heart and then extended it toward his, pressing it against the glass that was in my way. It was the gesture I had used to say thank you all those years ago, before I had healed my voice. Now I used it to communicate how grateful I was for those days we had spent together on the roof. For the time when he had been my friend.
Axiss looked at me for a long moment, then he slowly touched his hand to his heart and pressed it against the glass opposite to mine. I looked at our hands, his dark and mine pale, and my mind went back to the day on the roof when he had called me his friend. “Ami, friend,” he had said, and then he had pressed his hand against mine.
Ami, friend. The words echoed in my mind as I looked at our hands, separated by the glass. The two gestures merged in my mind into one message. Thank you, friend. I raised my eyes to his face. His red eyes met my golden ones and held them for a long moment.
I raised my other hand and kissed it, then pressed it against the glass as well. His expression softened and he gently touched the glass, taking my kiss, then stood staring down at his hand for several seconds before gently touching his cheek.
My vision began to swim and I watched blearily as he pressed both his hands back against the glass, opposite mine. I suddenly hated that glass more than anything, as if it was somehow responsible for keeping us apart. I wanted to feel his hands against mine.
The edges of my vision began to go dark and I felt myself falling. The last thing I saw was my hands slipping away from Axiss’ as I fell backwards. I was unconscious before I hit the ground.
The rest of the day was a blur for me. I remember waking up with a police officer standing over me, asking me if I was all right. I assured him that I would be fine. I don’t remember the trip home, but I must have taken a bus. When I reached the apartment I went straight to my room and curled up on my bed to cry.
It wasn’t long after that when an evening news story informed us that Axiss had been executed by lethal injection. There had been no question of Axiss’ guilt, and the families of countless victims had been lobbying for justice, resulting in one of the fastest convictions and executions our country had seen in decades. The television played security camera footage of Axiss being led into a small room and strapped onto the gurney, just moments before his death. I turned off the television, unable to watch any more.
I didn’t go back to the roof until months later. The snow had all melted away and the weather was warm and sunny when I stepped out onto the concrete surface. Everything seemed to remind me of Axiss, from the shed where he had lived to the bench where I’d fallen asleep. I circled the roof, gently touching places of significance as the memories came, one after the other. Some of them made me smile; others brought tears to my eyes.
Finally I made my way to the little shed and pushed the door open. Axiss’ coat was still lying on the floor where I’d put it the day that he left. Slowly I knelt down and picked it up. It still smelled like him, and I buried my face in the leather, closing my eyes to hold back my tears.
The sun was going down when I picked up the jacket and exited the shed. I climbed down the fire escape and crawled through my bedroom window. Kneeling down on the floor I pulled a box out from under my bed and removed the useless junk that was stored there. Neatly folding the leather trench coat I placed it in the box, then reached under my mattress and pulled out my diary, letting it fall open in my hands. It opened to the entry from the night of the masquerade ball.
He was so close tonight, I read. For a moment I thought he would do it, I thought he would try to change. That thought was the most wonderful thing ever. That moment of hope when I saw beyond his past and saw what he could become…
I turned the page, flipping through the diary. In some places my writing was large and sloppy, showing the emotional state I’d written them in. The last several pages were wrinkled and smudged from tears falling as I wrote. I slowly closed the diary and laid it on top of Axiss’ coat in the box. I carefully slid the box back under my bed and stood up. This chapter of my life, the part about Axiss, was over, but the memories couldn’t be tucked away as easily as the diary. I would always remember those crimson eyes, the leathery wings, and the rare sound of Axiss’ laughter. I would never forget the feeling of his arms around me, or the wind blowing through my hair as we flew. I would always remember the days when Axiss was my friend.
Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101
February 22, 2014
The smell of good food wafted through the house as Ylva worked away in the kitchen. It was Saturday, so she was home from work, and she wanted to make a nice breakfast to help cheer everyone up after everything that had happened the previous day.
She carried the pans of food to the table and then walked down the short hallway to my room and knocked on the door.
“Kalinda, breakfast is ready,” she called. She waited a moment, listening, but there was no answer and no sound of movement from inside the room. “Kalinda, please come out and eat with us,” she begged. Still there was no answer. She gripped the door handle and tried to turn it, but it was locked.
“She’s not there,” Shiva said, coming up behind Ylva.
“What?” she asked, turning to look up at him. “Then where is she?”
“On the roof,” he replied.
“But if she’d left her room this morning I would have seen her! Besides, her door is locked from the inside. She must be in there,” Ylva reasoned, but Shiva shook his head. Taking Ylva’s hand he held it over the crack around the bedroom door.
“Feel the draft?” he asked. “She’s gone out the window and climbed up the fire escape.”
“Then go after her!” Ylva exclaimed, but Shiva shook his head.
“I want to protect her as much as you do, but she’s a grown woman now, we need to let her make her own decisions,” he pointed out.
Ylva sighed. “I suppose you’re right. I just don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Me neither,” Shiva agreed. “But she knows the risks, and she’s willing to face them to help Axiss. We need to let her go.”
Ylva nodded resignedly and leaned against Shiva, who wrapped his arms around her for comfort. After a moment she pulled away and smiled tiredly. “Come on, let’s go eat breakfast before it gets cold.”
I had woken up early that morning, planning to get up and help Ylva with breakfast, but while I was brushing my hair something on the fire escape caught my eye. I walked over to the window and looked out to see that Axiss had forgotten his coat outside my window. I hesitated, then slid the window open and climbed out. Bending down I picked up the heavy leather coat and shook the snow off of it, then began climbing the metal stairs towards the roof.
“Axiss?” I called as I climbed over the railing and dropped lightly down into the snow. There wasn’t any answer. I crossed the roof to the shed and knocked on the door. Nothing. Holding my breath I turned the knob and pulled the door open. Empty. A thousand emotions rushed through me, and one thought surfaced. He was gone. Calm down, I told myself. Maybe he’s just exercising. He can’t stay up here all the time.
I turned in a circle, looking around the little shed. It felt very empty without Axiss. The sleeping bag I’d given him on the first day was still spread across the floor, but it was cold to the touch. He hadn’t slept in it last night. I sighed and laid the coat down on the floor for him to find if he came back. As I bent down my eye was caught by a small object half buried under the sleeping bag. It was the baby monitor. So that’s what happened to it, I thought, picking it up and sticking it in my pocket. I must have left it up here. It wasn’t until later that I began to wonder how much of Axiss’ time had been spent listening in on me in the apartment below.
I stayed on the roof for at least an hour, pacing around and staring down at the street below, but Axiss didn’t show up. Finally my ears began to hurt from the cold wind and I decided to go back down to the warm apartment.
All day my mind was on the empty shed. I couldn’t stop wondering if he would come back. By mid-afternoon I couldn’t stand it anymore, I had to go check and see if he’d come back yet.
When I stepped onto the snowy roof the first thing I saw was Axiss, standing with his back to me. I opened my mouth to greet him, but then I stopped as my eyes fell on the red splatters of blood staining his white hair. Somehow I knew that it wasn’t animal blood. I closed my eyes for a moment, composing myself. Pretend you don’t see it, I told myself.
“You’re back,” I said softly.
“Yes, I am,” he replied stiffly.
“I was afraid you’d left.”
“I did, for a while. Now I’m here again.”
“Which you?” I asked before I could stop myself. He finally turned to face me, and I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw. His face and hands were covered in blood. I looked at him sadly for a few minutes before dropping my eyes to the snowy ground.
“Nothing happened,” he said sternly.
“How stupid do you think I am?” I asked, suddenly angry.
“I said nothing happened!” he shouted. I just shook my head and turned away from him, walking over to the railing and leaning against it. A thousand things were running through my mind, and I didn’t want to think about any of them.
I heard him stoop and pick up a handful of snow, using it to scrub the blood off his face. “Why did you have to come up here?” he muttered. I could tell he was talking to himself more than to me.
For several minutes I was silent. Finally one thought rose to the surface of my mind, and I spoke it aloud. “What makes me different?”
His feet crunched on the snow as he walked over and stood beside me. “Different from what?” he asked.
“From everyone else. I practically had to make you take my blood, but with others you don’t think twice,” I explained without looking at him.
“For one thing I can’t take your blood,” he said bluntly. “Your healing power prevents me.”
“So, if it wasn’t for that, would you take it?” I asked. Then added softly, “Would you kill me for it?”
He didn’t answer me. We stood silently for several minutes, staring out at the distant horizon.
Finally I turned and looked up at his face. “What is it you wanted?” I demanded. “Blood? Thrill? Money?”
He turned his back to me, refusing to answer. I watched him for a moment. I was disappointed, and I was angry, but I knew that I shouldn’t be surprised. I should have seen this coming.
I felt sick to my stomach, which was a strange feeling for me. Turning my back on him I began to walk towards the door, not wanting him to see how strongly this was affecting me. I hoped I would be able to handle this better once I’d had some time to calm down and think things through.
“Goodbye Kalinda,” he said as I walked away. “You probably won’t see me again.”
That stopped me. I spun to face him. “You’re leaving?” I exclaimed, eyes wide.
“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” he replied, still keeping his back to me.
“Will you come back?” I asked. I had nearly forgotten everything else in my fear of losing him.
“I just said you probably won’t see me again,” he reminded me.
I stared at him for a moment, feeling paralyzed. My heart was beating so loud I was sure he could hear it. I tried to move, but I was frozen in place. I willed myself to say something, anything, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t imagined just how hard news like this would hit me. I hadn’t realized just how much I really cared for this man.
I struggled, trying to speak, to beg him to stay. Finally I managed to force one word from my lips. “Please.”
He coughed and turned to face me. “Please? I’ve heard that word so many times it makes me sick,” he spat. “That has been the last word of so many people. You could fill a book with that word.”
His words barely registered in my brain. I shook my head a bit, trying to clear my foggy thoughts. “Don’t go,” I begged.
“I have to. You,” he paused and pointed at me. “You are suffocating, and it’s my fault.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You need to open your eyes and stop focusing on me.” He started to back toward the edge of the roof, preparing to jump off and fly away. I could feel him slipping away from me, and it was agonizing.
“No! Axiss, don’t leave me!” I exclaimed, reaching towards him. I wanted to run to him, but I couldn’t make my legs move.
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I can’t stay.”
“Why? What did I do wrong?” I asked. My eyes were filling with tears, blurring my vision.
“Absolutely nothing. You’re perfect,” he answered.
“Then don’t leave me,” I whispered.
“I’m corrupting you. And misleading you,” he said. “Even if you somehow changed me, how would I live? Everyone knows who and what I am. I would have to hide away in a dark hole until I die. Is that what you want for me?”
My hands were shaking. I clenched them into fists and shook my head. “No… Oh, I don’t know! I just want you to stay!” I exclaimed.
“Look at you! Is this really so hard for you? You’re too attached to me; it’s clouding your judgment. Snap out of it, Kalinda!” he ordered.
“I love you,” I whispered, finally voicing what I hadn’t been able to admit before now. Axiss’ eyes widened and he stumbled as if he’d been struck.
“You what?” He leaned against the rail for support, staring at me. “What?!”
“I love you,” I repeated as the tears spilled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks.
“You- you can’t!” he exclaimed. “Why, why, why… why, how?”
I finally managed to move my legs. I took one shaky step towards him, my eyes pleading as I blinked back my tears. “Axiss, you said we were friends. If you ever meant a word you said to me than please, I’m begging you, don’t leave,” I said, my voice cracking as I spoke the words.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Without warning he appeared in front of me and gently tipped my chin up so I was looking into his crimson eyes. His expression softened as he gently brushed his fingers over my cheeks, wiping away the tears. Slipping his arm around me he pulled me close and slowly pressed his lips against mine. The kiss was soft and tender, and he held it for a few seconds before pulling away. I felt his warm breath tickling my cat ear as he whispered something to me in French, and then he was gone.
I stood frozen for several heartbeats before realizing what had just happened. “Axiss?” I whispered to the air where he had been, but of course there was no reply, just the empty whispering of the wind.
“Axiss!” I screamed. My legs gave out from under me and I collapsed in the snow, sobbing uncontrollably. I had been shot. I had been kidnapped. I had been forced to marry a stranger. But I’d never felt this much pain before.
I curled into a ball, hugging my knees and shaking violently. I had never cried so hard before in my life. My world was a blur of tears. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t think.
I don’t know how long I lay there, but eventually I ran out of tears. My eyes stung and my lungs hurt. I was trembling from the cold, but I didn’t care about that. Slowly I got to my feet, wobbling on my stiff legs. I stumbled to the door and down the stairs, probably looking like a drunk. I entered the apartment and was greeted by the sound of Marie crying. Baby, I thought. What’s she got to cry about?
“Kalinda?” Ylva stood and walked over to me, concern in her eyes. “Kalinda, are you okay?”
It took several moments for my mind to register her voice. I turned slowly to face her, my eyes red from crying. I opened my mouth to answer her, but I couldn’t find the words.
“What happened to you?” she asked. “You look half frozen!”
“Axiss,” I said. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth.
“Axiss?” she exclaimed. “What did he do to you?”
I stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending. Then I realized what she must be thinking and I shook my head. “He’s gone. He’s gone and he’s not coming back.” My voice shook as I said it.
“He left? Did he harm you?” she asked, looking me over as if she expected to find a wound, which was silly since I was a healer.
I shook my head again. “I asked him, no, begged him to stay. But he left. He’s gone…” I raised a hand to my head. It was throbbing from all the crying I’d done. I probably could have healed it, but it was the least of my problems at that moment.
I saw understanding dawn on Ylva as she realized that my pain wasn’t physical. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed.”
I nodded and turned towards my bedroom. I was thirsty. Dehydrated probably. But I didn’t care. I walked into my room and crawled gratefully into bed while Ylva pulled the covers up around me and brought me a glass of water.
“Ylva,” I whispered as she fussed with my blanket, “please, don’t blame him.”
She stopped and looked at me, confusion in her eyes. “But… he did this to you,” she said angrily. “How can I not blame him?”
“He left, Ylva. Yesterday you would have been glad. Now you’re angry with him? He did what you wanted.”
“But look at you! He may as well have tried to kill you,” she said.
“He left to protect me,” I said, still choosing to think the best of him, even now. “You should understand,” I pointed out. “You thought I was too close too him. I guess he thought the same.”
“I’ll admit I’m glad that he left, but… when he left he stole your heart.”
I shook my head. “He stole the kiss, but I gave him my heart.”
Ylva’s eyes saddened. “Kalinda, Kalinda, Kalinda…” she shook her head dolefully.
“This is my fault Ylva, so don’t blame him. I was digging my own grave and I knew it,” I told her.
“I’ll try my best for your sake,” she promised. “Now get some rest. You need it.”
I closed my eyes obediently. The extremes of emotions had left me feeling exhausted, and it wasn’t long before I slipped into a weary sleep.
Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101
February 6, 2014
OW! I exclaimed as Marie grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked on it. Ylva and Shiva had gone out together and left me with the twins for the evening, and Marie wanted me to let her watch a forbidden TV show.
“Alright that’s it. Go to your room,” I ordered as I pried her fingers off my hair.
“No,” the little girl said, crossing her arms and shaking her head stubbornly. I glared at her. It wasn’t often that I got angry, but she had crossed the line.
“I mean it,” I told her, but she just glared right back at me. Rolling my eyes I grabbed her and picked her up.
“No! Let me go!” She screamed, squirming and kicking. She had been pretty well behaved ever since Wati bribed her with the Christmas candy, but apparently it couldn’t last. She yelled and flailed her arms, hitting me in the nose.
“Stop it Marie, or you won’t get any candy tonight,” I threatened. She had been like this all day, and I was at the end of my rope.
“No! No!” she continued screaming. We reached her room and I placed her on the bed.
“Now stay there until you calm down,” I told her, heading for the door. She jumped off the bed and darted past me out the door and into the living room, forcing me to chase after her. “Get back here!” I exclaimed, but the little devil was out the front door and running down the hallway before I could stop her. To my extreme mortification she took the stairs leading to the roof, and I followed her out into the snowy day.
I finally managed to catch up to her. I grabbed her dress, and she spun around and slapped my face. Angrily, I grabbed her wrist. “Stop. It.” I said firmly. She immediately began crying and I rolled my eyes in exasperation.
“Having some difficulties?” Axiss’ voice said from his perch on top of the little shelter built over the stairs. Marie stopped crying and stared up at him with wide eyes, startled by the appearance of the strange man.
“Thank you,” I said, turning to face him.
“It was nothing,” he said.
I smiled, a strained, tired smile. “You know, I half expected you’d be gone next time I came up here.”
“I was gone,” he replied, “but now I’m not.”
“Well, welcome back then,” I told him.
Marie’s shock had turned to confusion, and she stood looking from me to Axiss. The wheels were turning in her mind, and before long she turned to me and said, “I’ll tell daddy.”
“Oh, it’s too late for that,” Axiss said, a teasing smile on his face. “Daddy already knows.”
Marie stared up at me, disbelieving. “He’s right,” I told her. “So stop trying to threaten me. I won’t let you watch that show.” Marie glared at me and then pouted.
Axiss looked down at Marie, his expression seeming almost curious. “Is that the same one?” he asked. “The one Arack tried to… the one he stole?”
“Yeah,” I said. “There are times I wish you had let him,” I muttered under my breath.
“Want me to take her off your hands?” he asked with a grin.
“For how long?” I asked, “And what’ll you give me?”
“I’m kidding. Unless you want me to eat her.” He rolled his eyes.
Marie’s eyes widened and she rubbed at her arm, where she still carried the scar from the last time someone tried to eat her. I’d been too preoccupied to notice the little wound the night of the incident, and now it was healed and no longer caused her pain, so I hadn’t ever bothered erasing the scar. Now I smiled, actually glad to see her a little bit uncomfortable. She deserved it.
“No, not today, but I’ll keep it in mind,” I said.
He jumped down from his perch and walked over to us. Bending down he came face to face with Marie, his red eyes looking into her big, frightened brown ones. “Be a good little girl,” he said, and then vanished in front of her eyes.
Marie whimpered and pressed herself against me, clutching at my pant leg for security. I hid a smile and then picked up the little girl, heading for the stairs. I glanced back once, but I didn’t see Axiss. Oh well, he was around somewhere.
After the girls were safely in bed I headed back to the roof. “Axiss?” I called, looking all around and wondering where he would be this time.
“Ah, I was wondering if you would come back up,” he said from behind me. I turned to face him.
“Of course I’d come back up, the question is just when.”
“Oh, and about earlier. Special effects cost extra,” he said. I grinned.
“You drive a hard bargain.”
“Hey, I should go into acting!” he said, smiling, then shook his head. “No. Never. Blaa. I always hated plays. They made me feel like I was assassinating ol’ Abe.”
I looked up at him and didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to respond to that, but I did know that I loved it when he smiled like that. I couldn’t help smiling back.
“Well anyway, thanks for your help. I’ve never seen Marie act like such a perfect angel before,” I said with a chuckle. She had been extremely sweet and obedient for the rest of the day.
“Scaring people is my job,” Axiss pointed out.
“Not quite,” I said, “but you’re good at it.”
“What can I say? I’ve been scaring people since I was born.”
“Well you don’t scare me,” I told him.
“Not anymore,” he said, “but I bet I did when you first saw me.”
I had to admit that was true. “But I was young then, and I was afraid of just about everyone. Except Shiva.”
“So?” he said. “If this was your first time meeting me I think you would be afraid.”
I shrugged. “I guess so, but that’s true of a lot of people. I don’t trust strangers.”
“It’s instinct,” Axiss suggested. “A good one to have too.”
I nodded. “Yeah, especially when you’ve lived on the run.”
“Hmm.” He sighed and gazed off in the distance. I shoved my hands in my pockets and gazed up at the sky. The sun was setting in the distance, silhouetting the tall city buildings against its red glow. Above us the stars were beginning to come out of hiding.
“The stars are so bright tonight,” I commented.
“I guess they are,” he agreed distantly.
“I guess that happens in the winter. Something to do with the atmosphere, it makes the stars look clearer.”
“They look kind of like un-fallen snow,” he commented. I glanced at him.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way before.”
“The mind is a strange thing,” he replied.
“Especially when it’s yours,” I said, unable to resist the opening. He looked down at me with a confused expression on his face. “That was a joke,” I informed him.
“It’s hard to tell sometimes,” he said.
“Well I’ve never been good at telling jokes.”
“You’re just not that type of person.” He shrugged. “Everyone has their own specialties.”
“Yeah…” I muttered. Looking down at the street below I saw Shiva and Ylva walking arm in arm down the sidewalk. “The happy couple is coming, I should probably go back down before they get home.”
“G’night,” he said.
“Goodnight,” I replied.
Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101
January 31, 2014
It was Christmas Eve and we were expecting Wati home for the holidays. We’d gone through and cleaned the place from top to bottom, and a general atmosphere of excitement filled the apartment. Even Marie was behaving better than normal, but that might be because she knew Santa was coming that night.
We didn’t have much spare money, so we hadn’t done much for presents or decorations, but I had no doubt that Ylva planned to go all out on the meal. My mouth was already watering at the thought of it.
I had just finished pinning my hair up and securing it with a red ribbon when there was a knock on the door. I ran to open it, knowing it would be Wati.
“Hey!” he said with a stupid grin. Then he stepped through the door and swept me into his arms in a big hug. Ylva poked her head out of the kitchen long enough to smile and wave, and then May came over and claimed a hug from Wati as well.
“Man I’ve missed you guys,” Wati said as he looked around the room. That was when Marie realized he was here, and she let out a high pitched shrieking sound and launched herself across the apartment at him.
Wati braced himself for impact and in three, two, one he was hit by the Marie-missile. He swept her up and hugged her, then tickled her a bit, making her shriek even louder.
I picked up his bags for him and carried them into the living room where Shiva was waiting for us. “Welcome home,” he said to Wati.
“It’s good to be back,” Wati said as he set Marie down. They shook hands and then went through the manly back-thumping ritual of greeting.
“You have to tell me all about college,” I said, sitting down on the couch and looking eagerly up at Wati. He chuckled.
“I expected that.” Holding up a finger he turned bent and rummaged through his bags, pulling out a few wrapped gifts. Picking one up he held it out to me. “I know we should probably wait, but this one I can give to you now.”
My brow creased quizzically as I took the package and opened it carefully. Inside I found a few college textbooks and my face lit up. “Oh! This is great!”
He smiled and sat down beside me on the couch. “These were from last semester, and I don’t need them anymore. I didn’t want to get rid of them so I thought you might want them.”
“Of course I want them! I’ve run out of good reading material. Thank you,” I said, leaning over and giving him a little side hug.
“I’ll try and get you some more next time I come,” he said.
“I’d like that,” I told him, then frowned and tipped my head to one side as I examined his face. “You’re fuzzy,” I informed him.
He smiled a bit. “Heh, what this?” he asked jutting his chin out and scratching at the stubble growing there. “Yeah I guess I am a bit.”
“Been studying so hard you forgot to shave?” I asked.
“No,” he shook his head. “Men have this thing with facial hair. You’re not considered a man until you can grow a beard.”
“So you’re trying to find out if you’re a man yet?”
“I’m ‘growing’ into it,” he said, giving me a poke.
“Well if you keep at it you might have a beard by the time you graduate,” I said.
He chuckled again. “It’s not like I want a full beard, just something… maybe like a goatee.” He shrugged.
“Good luck with that,” I teased. He made a face.
“Thanks for your encouragement.”
“Any time!” I replied cheerfully. I glanced up and caught Shiva grinning as he listened in on the conversation.
“Yup, I can always count on you for support,” Wati replied sarcastically.
“Really though,” I said, changing the subject, “you didn’t have to bring presents. Just bringing yourself was enough.”
“No, I like to get you guys stuff, just enjoy it,” he said.
“I just wish I could do more in return, that’s all.”
He waved a hand. “Naw, naw, just letting me come back is enough.”
“Are you enjoying college?” I asked.
“For the most part,” he nodded.
“What’s your favorite part?” I quizzed.
“My room mate, Jacob.” He chuckled, “He’s so nosey it wasn’t long before he found out I’m half different. When he guessed what I am I flipped out. I thought he was going to tell people and I thought my life would just go down hill. But then he pulled out his big fluffy tail. We both just laughed our heads off for half an hour.”
“That’s lucky,” I said. “If he had been human he could have made things pretty miserable for you.”
Wati nodded. “Differents are technically allowed at the school, but they’re usually bullied.”
“So you and Jacob get along well now?” I asked.
“We have our moments, but I guess everyone does. He usually bounces back quickly. See, he likes parties, while I’m not particularly fond of them. He tries to drag me along to them, and a few times I’ve gone just to make him happy.” He paused and inhaled sharply. “I usually have to drag him home again once he’s drunk.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Well at least you’ve made a friend of sorts.”
“There’s a few others, but I try to kind of avoid people for the sake of my secret. And I like quiet places for… well you know why. I can’t get too angry.”
I nodded again, and briefly wondered why I seemed to attract friends with anger issues. I pushed the thought aside. “Well I hope you’re learning some things, otherwise I’m gonna make you come back home. It’s lonely without you.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I’d have tried to visit sooner but there’s a lot to do, and it’s not like it’s a short trip.”
“It’s alright, I’ve been managing. I’ve even tried to make new friends…” I trailed off, and then shrugged. “I get credit for trying right?”
Wati laughed. “Yeah, you do.”
Marie came over again and scrambled up onto the couch, wiggling her way between Wati and me. “Did woo bwing me stuff?”
Wati nodded. “Yes, but it’s for later.”
“Dwaaa,” she said.
“Marie, why are you talking like that?” I asked.
“Becwaz,” she said simply.
“That’s not a reason,” I informed her.
“Ywesh it is.”
“Open up,” I ordered. She shook her head, but when I glared at her she grudgingly complied, revealing the piece of candy in her mouth.
“Where did you get that?” I asked. She wasn’t allowed to have sweets before dinner.
“Fwound it,” she replied.
“Fell out of Wati’s bag,” she replied. “Finders keepwers.”
Wati reached down into his suitcase and pulled out a bag of candy that had been closed when he packed it. “Oh, really… It just… fell.” He raised an eyebrow at the child. I suddenly realized why Marie hadn’t been pestering us during the whole conversation. She’d been too busy going through Wati’s bags. I should’ve known a quiet child meant trouble.
“Yup, just fell wight out,” she said, sticking to her story. “An’ I thought, it’s gonna get stepped on an’ sqwished in the carpet and momma gonna be mad. So I eated it.”
“Uh huh.” Wati nodded a bit and crossed his arms. “A likely story… however… using my now-smarter brain, I deduce that you didn’t find the candy…” he paused for effect, watching Marie squirm a bit. “…you stole it.” He hissed the last two words slowly and quietly, his eyes wide as if his own words shocked him.
“Didn’t stweal anything,” Marie said, a little uncomfortable now. “Candy’s meant for eating.”
“But you ate it without permission. That candy wasn’t yours to take,” he said.
“You’re nice though, you don’t mind much really,” Marie said, trying another tactic.
“Am I really? That candy… No, I wont tell you, because you ruined it,” he huffed, pretending to be upset.
“What?” Marie asked, staring up at him with wide eyes.
“Nope.” He shook his head and didn’t look at her.
“What’s special about the candy?” Marie asked, annoyed that a secret was being kept from her.
“I can’t tell you. You couldn’t handle it.”
“Pweeeease?” she begged, grabbing his shirtsleeve and tugging on it. “I won’t steal no more candy, pwomise.”
“That bag… That WHOLE bag of candy… I was going to give it to you. But now you’ve ruined the surprise. I couldn’t possibly give it to you the way it is – all torn open… and with one of the pieces MISSING.” He emphasized the last word, looking meaningfully at the guilty child.
Marie’s eyes got big as she envisioned eating a whole bag of candy. “That’s okay, I don’t mind if it’s open,” she said.
“Nope, I’m gonna repackage it and give it to your sister,” he told her promptly.
Marie’s jaw dropped. “Noooo!” she screamed. “No no no! I want some too! It’s my candy, you brought it for me!”
Wati tilted his chin up a bit and looked down at her with thoughtful eyes. “Hmm… Perhaps if you apologize…”
Marie hesitated. She looked at Wati, then at the bag of candy, weighing her options. She squirmed uncomfortably, glanced back up at Wati again, and then fixed her longing gaze on the sweets. “Sorry,” she whispered.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”
She glanced up at him again. “Sorry,” she repeated a little louder.
“Sorry? Who’s sorry? And for what?”
“I’m sorry for stealing the candy,” she muttered.
“Hm?” He tapped his ear.
“I’m sorry for stealing the candy. Won’t do it again,” she said more firmly.
Wati smiled kindly down at her. “Alright, deal. I’ll still give you the bag of candy, IF,” he paused raising a finger, “You promise to only eat one each day – AFTER suppertime.”
Again I saw her hesitate, but she looked at the bag of candy and the desire won out. “I promise.”
“Good, I’m going to have to trust your momma with the bag so she can give you your piece each evening. If you cause trouble she’s got the right to take your ration and give it May,” he informed her. “You still get the whole bag, IF you behave. This is your punishment for the crime you have committed.”
“That’s a lotta days!” Marie exclaimed, eyeing the bag. “How’m I gonna be so good?”
“Just think of the taste when you’re about to do something bad, then you think to yourself, ‘I sure don’t want to miss that yummy, yummy treat tonight. I better not do bad things.’”
“Yummy yummy,” Marie echoed.
“Now, since it’s Christmas I’ll let it slide for today and you’ll get another candy after supper. If your mom is okay with that.”
“Oh, I’m plenty okay with that,” came Ylva’s voice from behind. She grinned down at Wati and gave him a kiss on the cheek, then looking at me she said, “You better be taking notes.”
“Don’t worry, I am,” I replied with a smile. “Is dinner almost ready? I’m starved.”
“Just a bit longer,” she said, and smiled as she watched Marie bounce around the room with the excitement of eating a whole bag of candy by herself. Even if it was spread over a few days.
“Where’d you learn how to manage kids like that?” Shiva asked.
Wati ran a hand through his hair. “Honestly? Trying to handle the girls at college.”
That made us all laugh. “So is that your universal answer? Buy them chocolate and tell them to behave?” I asked.
“Heck no! They’d all think I was flirting with them!” he cried. “No, I had to handle their meltdowns and temper tantrums when I refused their offers to go out on dates.”
“Heartbreaker,” I teased.
“Hey, now. I can’t go out with all of them, there’d be too many!”
“You’re that popular eh? Wonder what they see in you,” I said cruelly.
“Well obviously not a different.” He shook his head, “I sometimes think about shouting it out just to get rid of them.”
“I tried that on you, remember? Apparently it didn’t work.”
“Well, that’s an entirely different situation.” He smiled at me.
“Really? I would say it was a three-quarters different situation.” He frowned at first, not understanding my pun, and then he burst out laughing very unceremoniously. I laughed too, grinning at him. Finally I said, “I’m glad it’s not that easy to get rid of you.”
Just then Ylva popped her head out of the kitchen again and called us all in for the meal. “Finally!” I exclaimed, rising from the couch and pausing to wait for Wati.
We gathered at the table and took our places. Marie was still bouncing up and down, making her chair squeak. We had barely sat down when there was a knock on the door. We looked at each other in puzzlement, except Shiva, who simply stood up again and opened it.
“Surprise!” Shashi cried as he and Chand piled in. We all grinned with happiness and called out greetings. Ylva jumped up and ran over, tackle hugging Shashi. She’d missed the dinner-interrupting tiger.
“Woah! I’ve been attacked!” Shashi cried, staggering backwards from the impact. He laughed and hugged her back.
Wati smiled and joined the chaos. Since Shashi was occupied he held out his hand to Chand.
“Heard you were back in town, so we decided to drop in,” Chand said.
Wati smiled up at the big man. “That’s good hearing you have then. Who told you?”
Chand just smiled and tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. “Yes, we panthers do have pretty good hearing.”
Once Ylva was thoroughly done crushing her old friend she moved over to Chand and gave her brother in-law a hug as well. Wati side stepped over to the tiger and grinned at him.
“Shashi…” he laughed shaking the blond man’s hand and then slapped him on the shoulder, “Still got that cheetah girl hanging around you?”
“Yup, we’re still together,” Shashi said with a grin. Then he frowned and gave Wati a quizzical look. “What’s with the fuzz?”
“Oh come on! A guy’s got the freedom to try something new doesn’t he? Plus I heard you once had a goatee,” Wati exclaimed.
Shashi nodded ruefully. “Yes, I was young and foolish then. Everyone mocked me until I finally shaved it off. Now I can see why,” he said, looking pointedly at Wati’s fuzz.
“Well, maybe I need to learn this lesson by myself,” Wati chuckled.
Shashi grinned. “Fine, if you’d rather learn the hard way than by all means.”
Just then Ylva piped up and interrupted them, scolding them for making everyone wait for the meal. At the mention of food Shashi quickly sat down at the table, eyeing all the choices. The table was covered in delicious looking dishes, and my mouth watered at all the sights and smells. We began to dish up, still chatting together.
“I should have known as soon as I heard the knock that it would be Shashi. Who else would show up just in time for dinner like that?” I asked, grinning across the table at Shashi. That made us laugh and everyone took note of the large mountain of food piled on the hungry Tiger’s plate.
“Easy now, Shashi.” Ylva warned, “You gotta save room for dessert.”
“Ylva,” Shashi replied, his tone almost reproachful, “I always have room for dessert.”
Ylva giggled, “That’s true. I sometimes think you have two stomachs. One for the meal and the second one for dessert.”
Shashi’s eyes widened and he looked around the table at all of us. “Who told her my secret?” he demanded. That caused another loud round of laughs from everyone. Even May giggled.
The laughter died down and we were all quiet for a few minutes, savoring the food. Predictably, Shashi spoke first. “Man, I’ve missed Ylva’s cooking. Look at me, I’m wasting away without it!” He said, gesturing down at himself. “Practically starving, I tell you!”
“But you look chubby.” May commented innocently.
Shashi looked at her suspiciously, then adopted an air of superior knowledge as he explained, “That’s muscle. I’ve been working out.”
“Working out? Doing what, skateboarding?” Shiva asked.
“Exactly!” Shashi said, pointing at him. “It’s tougher than you think!”
“I’m sure,” Shiva said with a nod. “You ride around on a wheeled contraption. It must be very strenuous.”
“Well I’ve been doing jumps and things! And balancing on that skateboard takes core muscles!” Shashi said defensively.
Ylva reached over and pinched his cheek, “What’s this then? Baby fat?”
“Those are smile muscles,” he replied.
She pinched harder before letting go. “I’m sure.”
“If you had a charming grin adorning your face 24/7 you’d have smile muscles too,” he informed her, rubbing his cheek. She just shook her head, laughing a bit.
At that point Shashi stopped talking because he was busy stuffing food in his mouth. “Well, so much for any hope of leftovers,” I commented.
“Well if someone had informed the cook that there was a bottomless pit coming I could have made more food,” Ylva said.
Shiva shot her a guilty look. “But it was such a nice surprise!”
“You’ll be having a nice surprise when we run out of food from this thing you’ve brought upon us.” She gave him a pointed look.
“I’ll just make him pay for next week’s groceries,” Shiva replied.
“Hey!” Shashi cried, suddenly listening. “Since when was this part of the deal?”
Ylva grinned at him, “You do have a job don’t you?” she asked sweetly.
“Maybe,” Shashi replied, lifting his chin in the air.
The friendly bickering continued through the rest of the meal, and then we all gathered around to open gifts. Nobody had much money to spend on presents, so most of the gifts were small and homemade. The twins got the best presents, mostly toys and candy. Since Shashi and Chand hadn’t been expected only Shiva had gifts for them, but they didn’t mind.
After the gift exchange everyone split up. Wati read a book to May and Shashi chased Marie around the house while Ylva, Shiva, and Chand sat in the living room and talked. I slipped quietly away to my room, where a large gift-bag was sitting under the window, still unopened. Slipping on my boots and coat I slid the window open, then picked up the gift bag. It was heavier than it looked, and I carefully slung it out the window, balancing it on the snowy fire escape and then climbing out after it.
As always, I knocked on the door of Axiss’ shed. “You don’t have to knock,” he said, like he always did.
“Merry Christmas,” I said as I opened the door and stepped inside, holding out the gift bag. He lazily took the bag, blinking with surprise at the unexpected weight of it. Setting it down he pulled out the tissue paper and then lifted out a long, leather trench coat. It was used, I’d found it at a thrift store, so the leather was worn and tattered in a few places and it had a musty smell, but it was still in relatively good shape. The inside was lined with a warmer material, so it would keep him warm in winter, and it looked like it might be large enough to go over his wings.
“Niiiiiiice,” he said, holding it up. “Is this real leather?”
“I think so, it’s sure heavy enough. It just looked like it suited you. Hope you like it.”
“I really don’t care if it’s made out of wash cloths, as long as it fits and keeps me mostly warm,” he told me. “I’m not the kind of person who can be picky.”
“Well why don’t you try it on then?” I suggested.
He stood up and pointed at the door. “I gotta go outside first. You’re in the way.”
I stepped aside and pulled the door open, making way for him to go out into the fresh, crisp air. Carrying the coat he stepped into the snow and stretched out his wings, then carefully folded them neatly on his back and slung the coat around them. It fit perfectly.
“Thanks, Kalinda,” he said, turning to face me.
“You’re welcome,” I said, smiling at him as I leaned in the doorway and watched. I was glad to have made him happy.
He flopped down in the snow and lay back, staring up at the sky. We were quiet for a while and then I tentatively broached the subject that was on my mind.
“So… is this goodbye then?” I asked softly.
“How so?” he asked.
“Well, are you going to stay here now that you’ve got that jacket?”
“What, is the jacket going to carry me away?”
“No, but why would you stay here now that you can leave?”
“I could have left a while ago you know.”
“Not very easily. You’d be half frozen before you got far.”
“I could still have left and gotten a jacket my way.”
“So why didn’t you?” I asked, sitting down beside him in the snow.
“Why would I?” he asked in kind.
“Because you’ve said yourself that you’re bored out of your mind here.”
He was confusing me. “So, I thought you’d be eager to get out of here,” I said.
“Who says I’m not?”
“Well that’s just it. I figure you’re eager to get out of here, and now that you’ve got a jacket you can leave without freezing to death, so I guess I’m expecting that you’ll leave and head south now, like you originally planned before the storm hit and stranded you here,” I explained.
“So why’d you give me the jacket?”
I hesitated before answering him. “Someone once told me you deserved to go to jail. I told them that even if that was true, I wouldn’t be the one to put you there.”
“Sooo… you gave me a jacket so I could go to jail?” he asked.
My eyes widened at his misinterpretation of my words. “No! That’s not what I meant! I meant that this place,” I gestured at the little storage shed, “is like a jail to you. I’m not going to be the one keeping you here.”
“I was crammed into a crate for a week one time,” he told me. “So it’s not that bad.”
I raised my eyebrows, but didn’t ask for details. “Still, it can’t be pleasant. I’m sorry for suggesting this… it was selfish of me.”
“It’s not like I have anything better to do,” he said. I shrugged and muttered something under my breath. “Did you say something?” he asked, looking up at me.
“Oh… nothing. I was just thinking there’s a difference between ‘better’ and ‘more interesting,’“ I replied.
“For me or you?” he asked.
“For you,” I said softly. He looked away and didn’t reply.
“Anyway, if you decide to leave now I understand,” I said softly. “But I’d prefer it if you stayed.”
“You’re too attached,” he stated heartlessly.
“Too attached?” I repeated. “Maybe.”
“So this is what you’ve been hiding up here,” a voice said behind me. I spun and saw Shiva standing on the stairs, leaning casually against the doorway.
“I was wondering when you were going to say something,” Axiss said, standing and turning to face Shiva.
“Little cold for a bat, isn’t it?” Shiva asked, glancing at me and then returning his gaze to Axiss.
“Just a little,” Axiss replied.
“Well this explains why Kalinda’s been spending so much time up here,” Shiva remarked. “Don’t worry,” he glanced at me, “I won’t tell Ylva.”
There was a pause as Axiss and Shiva regarded each other distrustfully. I saw Shiva hesitate and understood what must be running through his head. He wanted to help Axiss, just like I did, but he also wanted to protect his family. He had children to think about, and he probably didn’t like the fact that I was up here alone with an assassin so much of the time. He had always wanted to protect me.
I saw him set his jaw and knew that he had come to a decision. Stepping out into the snow he walked over to Axiss and held out his hand. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want. If you need anything, just let us know.”
I watched as Axiss and Shiva locked eyes, their red irises staring into each other. Slowly Axiss took Shiva’s hand, shaking it once and then letting go. They watched each other for a moment longer, but then Shiva looked away and turned to face me, deliberately turning his back on Axiss. “You’d better come down before our guests start to wonder where you’ve gone.”
“I’ll come down soon,” I promised. He nodded, satisfied, and then turned and walked back down the stairs to the apartment.
It took a moment for my heart rate to return to normal. I glanced up at Axiss, who was still staring at the stairs. “I told you he wouldn’t mind,” I said softly.
“I think he does,” he said, “in a way.”
“Maybe a bit, but only because he’s worried about me. He’s always been protective.”
Axiss turned away and walked toward the edge of the roof. I stood and followed him, wondering if something was wrong. It was hard to tell with Axiss. “Are you ok?” I asked, coming up beside him.
“Maybe,” he said flatly.
I frowned. “What’s wrong?”
I sighed. “Alright, have it your way. I just want to help,” I muttered under my breath. When he didn’t reply I said, “I guess I should go in.” He nodded his agreement. “See you later batman,” I said, but he didn’t reply. Sighing I turned and headed down the stairs, leaving him behind on the snowy rooftop. For the sake of my family I joined back into the Christmas fun, pretended that everything was fine, but I couldn’t get my mind off of Axiss’ sullen mood. He never failed to confuse me.
Copyright 2014 Arthwaya Valora & Alvara101