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Iron-black Wolves

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I meant to stay up waiting for Felix to get back from wherever he was, and I was going to shake him until his teeth rattled because whatever he’d done with the Titan Clock couldn’t be nothing fucking good. But my body just wasn’t up for that, and my head wasn’t staying none too clear on nothing neither, and Felix’s little hooker friend wouldn’t tell me nothing besides. “He’ll be back,” she said. Like I couldn’t tell she was worried too.

But anyway, I didn’t make it, just - couldn’t, and when I went under, Felix wasn’t there and when I came back up the next time to cough up more of something that shouldn’t’ve been in me to begin with, he wasn’t there then neither. I’d’ve yelled at Corbie for letting him go off on his own ‘cept it probably wasn’t her fault and anyway any yelling I did was only going to end up more of that cough.

I sort of figured I was back in Mélusine with Mavortian and Bernard, only they were dead, which I’d remember and then forget again after. Then there was the binding-by-forms tugging at me, and sometimes people were talking but I couldn’t tell if they were talking to me or to someone else.

I knew there was something wrong with me. Something wrong with Felix too, and I kept trying to ask someone but mostly what came out of my mouth was the cough I couldn’t stop.

I woke up eventually in what I was pretty sure was a different room than the one I remembered being in before. I tried to get up and go for the door and just barely missed landing flat on my face, so of course that was when Corbie came in.

“Where’s Felix,” I asked, and even to me it sounded like a mess but I guess she recognized the question.

“I don’t know,” she said, and I went cold.

“You don’t know,” I repeated, and I didn’t know what look was on my face but she looked like she wanted to back right out of the room again. “I’ve been looking,” she said.

“Looking,” I said, all flat. “Where’ve you been looking?” Her face did something like she knew what she should say and didn’t want to. I said, “What the fuck do you know,” and it came out a real nasty growl. Partly that was the fever and partly me being pissed and scared and fuck me sideways but I knew this was going to be bad, and just needed to know how bad it was going to be.

“He asked me to help,” she said, looking sort of like she might start crying and didn’t want me to know about it.

“Asked you to help with what,” I said.

“He needed money for the practitioner,” she said, and at first I didn’t get it, only then I thought about how Felix might make money fast and why he’d ask Corbie for help and fuck me sideways til I cry, my dumbfuck of an idiot brother.

She told me the rest. The expensive doctor and the flame and shadow business and the cloak and dagger meeting in the graveyard, which matched up timing with my dream about the wolves. That’d been about three days ago and Corbie’d been looking in hospitals and shit but the way she kept shooting glances at me I could tell she was wondering if she shouldn’t be looking someplace else.

And you know I was fucking grateful for the binding-by-forms because at least I knew Felix wasn’t dead, along as how if he was I’d be a hell of a lot crazier.

But Felix not being dead and Felix being fine weren’t the same thing, at all, and I was dead to rights sure that whatever he was doing right now, fine wasn’t it.

“And you don’t know who they were,” I said.

“Well, actually,” she said, “maybe. If the Clock of Eclipses starting was something to do with...those people are in the paper, the ones taking credit.”

My first thought was so why don’t we go and shake it out of them what they did with Felix but I was a broke cripple who still couldn’t breathe right and she was a hooker, so that wasn’t getting us nowhere.

Nothing much was, and I felt more’n a little like I was gonna go crazy after all, and it wasn’t my fault for getting sick but it still kind of felt like I should’ve stopped him. Because sure, we’d needed the money, and it was what Felix would’ve known how to do, but I wouldn’t lay any bets that this weren’t another way of punishing himself, too.

We were going back and forth about what the fuck to do next - or, well, I dropped into a coughing fit so hard I couldn’t breathe and ended up with Corbie rubbing my back until one of the other girls poked her head in and said, “Corbie, message for you.” She hardly even looked at me and I kind of wondered what Corbie’d said about my being there.

“Sorry,” Corbie said. “I’ll be right back,” and left me there trying not to think about Felix down the well not knowing where he was.

It was only about a minute before Corbie came in, though, a weird look on her face. “Got a note,” she said. “From Mrs. Lettice.” I must’ve looked blank, cause she said, “she runs the place you were staying.”

That Corbie had dragged me out of some way or another since there’d been no way to pay without Felix around. “Right. And?”

Corbie pressed her lips together and said, “she says Felix is there.”

I couldn’t exactly shoot out of bed and sprint over there, but I did my best try of it. Must’ve looked pretty sad, though, me leaning on Corbie and hobbling as fast as I could, trying to keep from starting another coughing fit. Felt a long ways though it couldn’t’ve been that far and I was wheezing a little when we got there. Pathetic, Milly-Fox.

I didn’t have much space in my head for that, though, because we opened the door and there was Felix, sitting there with his shoulders sort of curled in and his head down. Corbie made a little noise and I pulled off her and said, “Felix?” like maybe I was looking at the wrong red-headed tattooed hocus, but sure enough his head came up and whipped around and it was him, all right, skew eyes blinking at me, yellow bruises down the side of his face and a scrape over his eyebrow and it weren’t the binding-by-forms made me want to beat the bastards who’d put it there.

“Oh,” Felix said, his voice a little breathy and strange, “there you are,” like we were the ones who’d gone missing.

“Kethe’s cock,” I said. “What happened,” even though it was pretty damn clear what had happened, at least some of it. Felix kind of twisted his hands together and looked away. I could see scabs on his knuckles and wrists and if I’d known who to kill I think I could’ve done it right then.

“Nothing,” Felix said, but he wobbled a bit saying it. “I’m - okay.”

Okay. “You’ve been gone three days,” Corbie said, before I could, and Felix sort of flinched a little like he thought he was gonna get hit. I went over and sat down next to him, partly along as how I wasn’t feeling too steady myself.

“You don’t look okay,” I said. Felix looked at me kind of funny and then stood up, even though he was looking a little like he might go ahead and tip over.

“You should be resting,” he said to me. “You look better, but I’d still like Practitioner Druce to have a look at you. Corbie, I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience–”

“I’m not leaving,” she said, before he got around to asking.

“Corbie, please,” Felix said, and maybe it was the please that did it, or the fact that she must’ve been able to hear as good as I did how hard he was trying not to fall apart and how much he didn’t want to do it in front of anyone else. She looked at me and I tried to give her a look back that said she could go on and I’d take it from here, at least until Felix’d settled a little.

“Okay,” she said finally. “I’ll be at the Brocade Mouse. And I’m coming round tomorrow, too.”

“Yes,” Felix said, all exhausted. “Naturally.” She looked a little hurt, but covered it fast and went. I waited a little while after she was gone to see if Felix said something else, or did something, but he just sat there staring at nothing.

"Three fucking days, Felix," I said after a while, because one of us needed to. "Where the fuck were you?"

"I don't know," he said after too long, and there was that funny sound in his voice again like he might start crying. I would've thought he was lying and I was about to be mad about it except then he looked down and said, "I don't remember," and all the mad went right out of me right along with the air.

My first thought was he'd gotten hit in the head but he wasn't acting confused or nothing, just spooked and trying to act like he wasn't and I guess three days gone. And I thought of me forgetting everything with Strych and Felix missing half a year when he was crazy and whatever Felix had done to Isaac Garamond's head, all the things that could fuck up a person's memory and none of them good fucking news.

"What do you remember," I said, because I needed to know and because by the look on Felix's face he was thinking about the same things I was and scaring himself worse. 'Cept maybe that was a bad question too, because he got even paler. Probably there weren't no good questions. He hesitated and then shook his head.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I am here now, aren't I?" And real quick added, "you're still sick. I'll see to the room and have Practitioner Druce--"

"I'm getting better," I said. "Don't need no more of that."

"Any more," he said, and it was a fair imitation of his best snotty self but I wasn't falling for it. "And I would rather not risk it."

"Yeah, and I'd rather not risk you going out there and getting yourself beat so some Practitioner can tell me my lungs are fucked up," I said, maybe a little too hard, and Felix flinched like I'd hit him, which just made me feel like rotten shit.

"I'm o- I'm all right," he said, and this time he caught himself, anyway, and I wanted to say no you're fucking not but I didn't think I was going to win any arguments right now, and anyway I didn't really want to try when he was like this and maybe might be slipping back down the well, or had just climbed out of it. "And besides, we can afford it."

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a big, shiny, gold coin. I just kind of stared at it and Felix smiled all lopsided and unhappy and said, "I suppose that is what restarting a Titan Clock is worth."

The look on his face said he hadn’t meant to say that. It wasn’t nothing I hadn’t already guessed, though I didn’t know the first fucking thing about how you’d start one of those things. But I remembered what Felix’d said about how Strych had used him to break the Virtu.

“I’ll get us a room, at least,” Felix said, and bolted, and I knew I should say something but didn’t think of it fast enough.

About as soon as we had a room Felix mumbled something about going to bed, which I was pretty sure was an excuse so he didn't have to talk to me along as how he wasn't exactly relaxing. He got all curled up like he was trying to take up as little space as possible, and he might not remember nothing but sure as fuck remembered more than he wanted me to know. And I got that, I did, it ain’t like there wasn’t nothing I didn't want to talk about. 'Cept it seemed like maybe he should and also I didn't like that he was ashamed, like it was his fault whatever had happened. If it were up to Felix, I'd probably've never known he'd been whoring himself out to pay for my stupid fucked up lungs.

I left it alone, figuring there wasn’t nothing I could say, and I didn’t take too long to go to sleep too. My whole body still felt like I’d taken a nasty beating or six.

I woke up in the middle of the night and it took me a second to figure out why, cause for once it wasn't coughing. It was Felix, crying like in the Verpine, like a kept-thief trying to keep quiet. He had his back to me and I sat up a little and just said, "Felix."

He didn’t answer. I groped around in the dark for Jashuki and hauled myself up out of bed to go over and put a hand on his shoulder, only then he went all stiff and said in this small voice, "stop," just that, and I felt he'd punched me in the stomach. I took my hand off fast.

"Okay," I said, and didn't have anything after that, but then he twisted around and said, "Mildmay?" all confused, and I realized he'd been asleep. Asleep and dreaming, and I didn’t need three guesses what it was about.

“You were dreaming,” I said. Felix was quiet for a few seconds and then just said, “oh.”

“You okay?” I asked, after waiting a few seconds to see if he’d say something else on his own. He let out this sort of awful sounding laugh.

“Oh, yes,” he said, way high. “Quite.” I didn’t know what I’d expected.

“Did you…” I trailed off, treading lightly as I would’ve on a job. “Did you remember something?”

“No,” Felix snapped, “I didn’t.”

I backed off. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but it was obvious he didn’t want to say nothing either way, and maybe that was just how it needed to be. Maybe this was his head protecting him from something he couldn’t take. Course, that made me think about what that could be, and that made me want to bash some heads in again. And I still couldn’t do nothing about that. “Okay,” I said. Felix gave me this sideways suspicious look like he thought I might be trying to trick him.

“That’s it?”

“You don’t remember, you don’t,” I said. “And if you did and you just didn’t want to say, that’s fine too.”

“I don’t remember,” he said, like I’d insulted him. I shrugged, and he said, a little higher. “I’m telling the truth. I remember the graveyard, and being blindfolded, and I remember them taking me - somewhere, somewhere underground, but then…” He looked away from me and just stared at one of the walls. I kept my mouth shut waiting, and Felix kept not looking at me, and I kept looking at the scabs on his wrists and thinking about how easy he could've never come back at all. And that made me feel like I couldn't breathe.

“I know they - used me, somehow, to start the Clock of Eclipses,” he said finally. “Or I am - fairly certain of it. But I don’t…” He fidgeted with his fingers like he would’ve been playing with his rings if he were wearing them. He was reminding me again of how he’d looked back when he’d been crazy, scared and waiting for the next hit to come in, and something in my chest bunched up like a cramp.

“Okay,” I said. I was pretty sure what ‘used’ meant, that those people had raped him like Strych had, and I didn’t know if he wasn’t saying along as how he thought I didn’t know or just didn’t want to say it. It seemed like maybe I should say something, but I didn’t know where the fuck to start.

He shook himself all over like a dog after a rain and ran his fingers through his hair and said, “you can go back to sleep, I’m fine now,” like anyone was going to believe that.

“Yeah,” I said, “okay,” and pretended to go back to sleep. I felt like a coward, a little, but pushing seemed about as likely to set him off at me as anything else.

Corbie came around in the morning. Felix was still acting like he might crawl out of his skin if someone looked at him funny, and he told her the same thing he’d told me, that he couldn’t remember what’d happened, only with her he said it like he was just daring her to go ahead and keep asking so he could bite her head off. She was smarter than that, though.

"He should put in a complaint," Corbie said, when Felix shut himself in the bathroom. ‘To wash,’ he’d said, but I wasn’t so sure that he wasn’t just hiding in there. “For breach of contract.”

"He won't," I said, even if I kind of thought so too. I knew Felix, though, and he'd as soon do that as go splashing around in the ocean. "You can go ahead and tell him if you want, but it won't do no good." Corbie made a face like she knew I was right and was mad about it. She glared at the closed door. I still wasn’t sure of her, especially along as how she’d been Felix’s pimp the last while, but it helped that she seemed actually upset about Felix getting hurt.

She had to leave before Felix came out, and I stared at the closed door and wondered how long I should let him hide in there, if I should say something or just let him be.

I did knock eventually, after it’d been a while, and just said, “You okay?”

“A moment,” he said, and sounded a little breathless but when the door opened he didn’t look no worse than he had, though being cleaner made the marks stand out more. “I sent a message to Practitioner Druce this morning,” he said, fast like he thought I’d interrupt. “She should be here before too long.”

“Good,” I said. “So she can have a look at you while she’s at it.” I hadn’t missed how he was moving around like it hurt him, on top of everything I could see. Felix gave me a quick look and a frown.

“That won’t be necessary,” he said, all flash, and I wasn’t buying that for a second. I didn’t say nothing and he twitched and said, “what?

“Nothing,” I said. He turned around, though he still wasn’t quite looking at me, not straight on.

“I’m perfectly all right,” he said, which would’ve been more convincing if it weren’t for the bruises and the fact that he was even more bone pale than usual. I just kept staring at him, and he twitched again, shoulders drawing up toward his ears. “What, Mildmay?”

“If you’re gonna try to lie,” I said, “might work better if your face ain’t messed up when you say that.”

One of his hands lifted up towards his face and he yanked it back down. “It’s only - a few bruises,” he said, but his voice shook a little saying it. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to shake him or hug him and didn’t do neither, just kept my eyes on him and eventually he said a little sharper, “besides, I would rather not...there is the extra expense to think of.”

That was dirty. He knew I still wasn’t in no condition to go card-sharping, and the idea of him going back out on the street made me want to pitch a fit. I almost growled at him and instead just said, “if you’re that worried about money maybe she shouldn’t come at all.”

Felix narrowed his eyes at me and I braced myself for a fight, but I guess either I still really looked like shit or he just wasn’t up for it because he sighed and said, “fine, you win.”

It didn’t exactly feel like winning nothing, but I guessed I’d take it.

Felix’s Practitioner Druce listened to my lungs and made me cough and said pretty much that my lungs were still fucked up but they were a little less fucked up than they’d been before. Felix sort of hovered nearby and when she was done with me I could see he was about to try and wiggle out of saying anything about himself even if a blind idiot could’ve seen he wasn’t exactly at his best. He glanced at me, though, and then said, “if I could have a word in private?”

I sat there and waited for what felt like a while. When Felix came back he was on his own, so I guess I didn’t get to know whatever she’d told him. He didn’t look great, though, shaky and sort of confused, though he swapped it out fast for a smile when he saw me looking.

“So,” I said. “Um.”

“It’s as I said,” Felix said likely. “Nothing serious.”

I wasn’t buying that, but I still wasn’t sure if I was supposed to call him on it or let it pass.

“And what about...the other stuff,” I asked, feeling a little like an idiot. Felix raised his eyebrows.

“Are you asking me how I’m feeling?

Powers and saints, he didn’t have to make it sound like that. I kept my mouth shut. Felix’s face did something funny and he said, kind of brittle, “I can’t imagine it was anything worse than what I’ve done before.”

I was pretty sure he said it to shut me up, and I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of that, so I just said, “not saying much.” Felix’s face went bright red and he looked like he was trying to decide between being pissed or just embarrassed, so I said fast, “I don’t mean it like that.”

“No?” Felix said, but I wasn’t taking that bait, and after a minute his face twitched again and he looked away and said, “I really am fine.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I agreed to it,” Felix said, his shoulders hunching up. “I knew - I knew what they were hiring me for. I can hardly pretend–”

“You didn’t agree to them using you for some ritual to start a Titan Clock,” I said, and it came out sounding like a growl. “Seems to me like whatever they did weren’t just - this flame-and-shadow business.” I could feel my face getting hot but I pushed forward anyway. “They raped you.

Felix laughed, high and awful. “You can’t rape a whore, darling,” he said, and I was pretty damn sure right there that I was hearing someone else. And that sent the worst kind of shiver down my spine and I thought for a second I was going to be sick.

“Yeah,” I said, when I thought I could keep from losing breakfast, “you can.”

He gave me this quick surprised stare like I’d started speaking Norvenan, and it ain’t like it was a surprise but it still hurt seeing it. I kind of wanted to say you don’t need to keep punishing yourself but I didn’t know that he’d get it, or if he’d just get his hackles up over my saying so.

He recovered before too long, cleared his throat and looked away from me. “Well,” he said, and then stopped, and said again, “well,” and stopped again, and I tensed along as how I could see something coming and just didn’t know what it was going to be.

He didn’t say nothing more, though, not for a while, just stood there blinking and finally pressed his hands over his eyes and sat down and said, quiet enough I barely heard it, “you have a fox’s head right now.”

Fuck me for an emperor’s snotrag. “Oh,” I said, “oh, shit.” I couldn’t help but think it was a good thing he didn’t seem quite so crazy as he had sometimes when he was seeing things, but maybe he was just better at pretending. “How long?” I asked.

“How long this time or how long has it been...a problem?” he asked, voice real high and still muffled in his hands. “This time - oh, ten minutes?”

“And the other thing?” I asked. He didn’t say nothing for a while again but I was pretty sure I knew and he knew I knew too.

“Since...since I came back.” He dropped his hands off his face. “Whatever they did seems to have - opened some old, ah. Thaumaturgical wounds.”

Yeah, I just bet it had. I was gonna kill em. Somehow.

“It isn’t - I know where I am, and who you are, and who Corbie is,” Felix said, sounding scared, maybe that I wouldn’t believe him or something. “So it isn’t…” That bad, I thought he was going to say, but maybe he realized how that’d sound along as how he didn’t.

“Don’t make it okay,” I said.

Doesn’t,” he said, which meant he was trying to stop me talking. “And I know. I didn’t say–” He stopped, and dropped his hands, and just stared straight ahead at nothing. I waited. Seemed like that was the best thing to do. I’d’ve asked why’d you not tell me but I could figure the answer to that without much trouble.

When a while went by and Felix didn’t say nothing more, though, I limped over to sit down next to him. I couldn’t help but keep thinking should’ve been there. Should’ve been looking out for him, Milly-fox, this is what happens when you don’t.

“I dreamed about it,” I blurted out, like an idiot. “I think. When I was sick. I saw you giving your heart away to the iron-black wolves - the ones with the–”

“Eyes made of burning coals. I remember.” Felix’s voice sounded all funny again but I couldn’t tell exactly what it was making it that way. “That’s - interesting.” I felt stupid for saying it, then, except after a second Felix added, “I’ve never heard of any annemer with a talent for oneiromancy. Perhaps an artifact of the obligation d’âme. Or a coincidence.”

I didn’t think coincidence, but I just shrugged. Felix slanted his eyes sideways at me and I wanted to ask him what he was seeing, a little.

“It always...things go back to normal before too long,” he said. “It’s...manageable.”

‘Manageable’ didn’t sound like much to me, but it wasn’t like I really had other ideas. Didn’t seem like we could probably make it back to Troia. “Yeah,” I said finally. “Okay.”

Felix flinched like I’d said something else and bounced to his feet before I could ask what. “Well,” he said, “now you know.” He said it like that was the end of it and there was nothing else to talk about, that’s all, we’re good. Which I didn’t think was true, sure, but I didn’t quite know what to say either, and I didn’t want to fuck it up. Probably best to back off now and try to come back to it later.

I did say, though, before I let it drop for true, “I meant it, what I said about - they did rape you. And you wouldn’t say that if it were Corbie, so why’s it true when it’s you?”

Felix wrestled with that one for a little and then said, “I know you meant it,” and then shook his head and said, “it doesn’t matter.”

I shouldn’t’ve, but my big stupid mouth went and said, “is it cause you think you deserve it?”

Felix went real still and didn’t move, and I thought powers, Milly-fox, you did it this time, but then he just cleared his throat and said, “don’t be ridiculous. I’m going out.”

“Wait,” I said, alarm bells all starting jangling at once. “Felix, don’t.”

“I don’t need a minder at all times, Mildmay,” he said, sharp, and I thought yes you sort of do and you just said you were seeing things but I wasn’t stupid enough to say neither.

“Not trying to mind nothing,” I said. “Just asking you to not leave.”

And I knew, I knew Felix could say a whole pack of nasty things to cut me to pieces and make me regret ever opening my mouth. But he didn’t, just sort of slumped and said, “very well, then,” and turned back around.

“We don’t have to talk more if you don’t want,” I said, after we were both quiet for a while, and he gave me a look like he was annoyed I’d said it.

Thank you,” he said, all snippy, “for your permission,” and it was real clear he wasn’t saying any more to me today and maybe not tomorrow neither.

I let him be, even if I was still kind of worried he’d wander off on his own and get lost again. But I wasn’t a dog looking to get myself kicked today.

So we’d talked about it some, I guess, but it was hard to tell if it’d done any good because Felix was doing the thing where he’d talk a lot and not say anything. And it wasn’t like I was exactly expecting him to be all open and honest with me, but I’d hoped at least he’d let me know when he was seeing things and I was pretty sure he wasn’t.

I could sort of tell when things were bad anyway along as how he’d stick real close to me with his eyes just a little too big. I guessed at least it was good he did that rather than thinking I was his Keeper or something.

Then there was Corbie, who kept hovering around and I could tell she felt bad, and Felix was sort of talking to her but not really along as how he wasn’t about to tell her about being crazy. Which I could tell hurt her, and it wasn’t making Felix happy neither, but that didn’t stop him from doing it anyway.

So I guess things weren’t really better, but I figured they could’ve been worse. Which as soon as I thought it was probably about the same as an invitation.

I woke up with the obligation d’âme screaming at me.

I was up and scrambling around for Felix before I really knew what I was doing, except he wasn’t there, it was just me and the door was open into the hall and it felt like the air’d been punched right out of my lungs.

I started swearing in my head, thinking maybe those bastards had come back and grabbed Felix for some reason. Then I sort of remembered when I was sick, and I’d spooked and run up on the roof. So I went up and Felix was there, sitting too close to the edge and sort of rocking back and forth. I couldn’t hardly think for wanting to grab him and yank him back away, only I remembered what’d happened at Nera, and I didn’t know where his head was at now. If he fought me, between my crip leg and my sick lungs, he might take us both off the roof.

So I just stayed where I was and said, “Felix?”

He didn’t stop rocking and he didn’t answer me, so I went a little closer on his good side and tried again. “Hey,” I said. “It’s me.”

Still nothing but that back-and-forth, back-and-forth, and my skin was trying to crawl off me. I edged a little further forward and finally he stopped moving and I could see his knees all curled up to his chest and forehead pressed against them, and now that he wasn’t rocking I could see he was shivering, which made sense along as how it was bumfuck cold out.

“Felix,” I said, “want to come back inside?” He shook his head. “Okay,” I said slowly. “Can you tell me why not?” Another head shake. I thought about what I’d asked and then said, “does that mean you can’t or you don’t want to?”

Nothing but the shivering for a while and I would’ve gone down to get a blanket or something ‘cept I didn’t want to leave him up there like this on his own. “I don’t know,” Felix said finally, his voice all wobbly, and after a second, “it’s hard.”

“Okay,” I said. “Can you try?”

“It’s following me,” Felix said. “It’s been following me ever since the farmhouse, and now it - I can’t sleep, and it keeps telling me–”

“It?” I said, my skin crawling all over again.

Felix didn’t lift up his head. “The fantôme,” he said. “From the burned farmhouse. It wants me.”

Well, wasn’t that just the bitchkitty. I remembered the farmhouse, sure, but I didn’t remember Felix saying nothing about no fantôme, which meant he’d been sitting on this for weeks. Right then I could’ve strangled him. I could remember, sort of, the thing in the tower in Hermione and getting rid of that’d taken a whole pack of hocuses, so I was guessing Felix getting rid of this one on his own wasn’t going to happen.

Felix made a sound like a sort of choked off sob and curled up tighter and said, gasping, “I won’t, I won’t let it–”

“I know,” I said, “I know you won’t. Felix, it’s freezing out here. Let’s go inside, okay?”

I held my breath until Felix gave this jerky little nod and scooted back from the edge, and I waited until he went down the stairs to follow after. I herded him into my room and he stood there in the middle with his arms around himself staring at the wall. I wanted to get him a blanket or something but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t take it.

“I remembered some things,” he said. “I think. It’s all - it’s confused, and I’m not certain how much is…” He trailed off. I sat down and waited to see if he’d keep going or if he was done. Finally he said, almost a whisper, “I thought I was dying.”

I swallowed hard and stayed quiet, waiting to see if he’d keep going, because it seemed like maybe he wanted to and maybe he didn’t and I didn’t want to push one way or the other.

“I thought…I remember them celebrating. And I - everything hurt, and I couldn’t move. I remember they were celebrating, the clock was...and I knew I was going to pass out, and I wasn’t sure I was going to wake up again.”

I was thinking about it again, about him never coming back, and me just waiting and looking and waiting and maybe eventually his body would’ve turned up or maybe it wouldn’t’ve and either way it made me feel sick.

“You did, though,” I said. “And you’re back here now.”

“The fantôme was there,” Felix said, even quieter, so I really had to strain to hear. “Telling me it wouldn’t let anyone hurt me again if I just let it in.”

“Kethe, Felix,” I said. He still wasn’t looking at me.

“It lies,” he said. “I know it lies.”

I wasn’t sure which part of all this had put Felix up on the roof, but I guessed it didn’t matter. “C’mere,” I said. “You’re still shivering.” I didn’t know if I should ask what he’d been planning on doing up there, if he’d just gone bolting out the nearest door or if he’d been thinking something else, but I knew I didn’t want to give him no chances to do it again.

Felix shook his head. “I don’t want to sleep.”

“You don’t have to,” I said. “Just get under some blankets.” He blinked at me, wide-eyed and scared looking and it hurt, seeing him look like that again. “It’s okay. I’ll be right here.”

He edged over real slow and got in my bed, curled up under the covers.

“I thought about you,” he said, all of a sudden. “I thought I was dying and I thought - who’s going to take care of Mildmay? He’s still sick.” He glanced at me, real quick, and then away again.

“What’re you seeing right now,” I asked, along as how I didn’t really know what to say to that.

“You,” Felix said, and closed his eyes. “My fox-headed brother.”

I didn’t really know what to say to that either. Wasn’t like I could fix it. All I could do was sit and stay awake and make sure he didn’t go running out on the roof again.

Didn’t feel like much.

Felix didn’t exactly sleep soundly but he didn’t wake up with no screaming horrors neither. He woke up late in the morning and rubbed his eyes and squinted at me and I wondered suddenly if maybe he didn’t remember last night.

“Did you sleep?” he asked, and sounded actually kind of worried about it. I shrugged, and he pressed his hands against his eyes and said, “you could have taken my bed.”

“Didn’t want you taking off again,” I said, and Felix turned a little red and rolled over so he was looking at the ceiling.

“This must all be terribly inconvenient for you,” he said, like I was trying to plan a dinner party or something.

“Probably more inconvenient for you,” I said, and he flushed a little pinker like that was embarrassing, which I hadn’t meant. I just meant it weren’t me who was crazy.

He got up, anyway, and ran his hands through his hair which just made more of a mess of it than it already was. “We should be getting ready to leave,” he said, changing the subject. “Now that you’re well - more or less - we need to get back on the road.”

“Fine by me,” I said. I’d been sort of surprised we hadn’t high-tailed it out sooner, but I guessed I hadn’t exactly been doing great and Felix wasn’t thinking all that clearly. Maybe I should say something about the fantôme, but I wasn’t sure what Felix remembered and what he didn’t and if I should remind him if he didn’t.

I sighed and said, “d’you remember last night?”

Felix went still for a second and I saw him press his lips together in a line. “Yes,” he said, and yeah, he didn’t sound too happy I’d brought it up. “I am not forgetting new things.”

“That’s good,” I said, wishing I hadn’t said nothing.

“Indeed,” Felix said, and bit off the end of the word. “We can go to the train station today to purchase tickets for - oh, say, two days from now. Will that suit for you?”

I shrugged. I knew when a question from him wasn’t really a question, and if he wasn’t happy with me I wasn’t too happy with him neither for getting snippy with me. But I could tell he was scared, and then I realized he hadn’t really gone out out since coming back and didn’t seem like he much wanted to do it now.

“Hey,” I said, not so much annoyed anymore. “It’ll be okay.”

“Of course it will,” he said, voice going up a bit. “It’s only getting some tickets.”

“Yeah,” I said, and almost added and I’ll be there, but didn’t. Even if that sure as fuck made me feel better. I couldn’t help but think about him trying to go off on his own and getting lost in the streets and then losing his head too and not being able to find his way back.

“Hardly like crossing a mountain range,” he said, like he was trying to convince himself, and then added, “or a river,” throwing a wobbly smile at me like he was trying to convince me, too.

“Sure,” I said. “Easy.”

The smile slipped off and Felix turned back around, fiddling with his jacket some more.

“If you wanna wait,” I said finally.

“I don’t,” Felix snapped, and I shut my mouth hard but a second later he brought his hands up to his face and breathed out shakily and said, “I am...sorry. It isn’t your fault.”

“Ain’t yours, either,” I said after a couple seconds. Felix let out a short and nasty laugh that made my skin crawl a little.

“That’s arguable,” he said.

“No it ain’t,” I said. He gave me that wide-eyed surprised look again but he covered it up faster and just started rubbing the knuckles of the fingers I knew’d been broken. It seemed like he wanted to say something and hadn’t figured to get there yet.

Then he laughed again, less nasty, and said, “I don’t know what I’m so afraid of. It’s absurd.” He rubbed his eyes and turned around and gave me that five-alarm smile. “Let’s just go. There is no use in stalling.” He went for the door, and I limped along after him, cause what else was I gonna do.

All the way to the train station Felix acted like he was cool as you please, nothing bothering him at all. He did pretty well at it too, mostly - least, well enough to probably fool most people, but I knew his tells and he was jumpy, all right, and just getting jumpier. He stumbled a little over asking about ticket times and kept glancing at me like he was making sure I was still there.

I probably should’ve seen it coming from a mile off. Someone passing by just bumped into Felix and he jumped about a foot in the air. “Mildmay,” he said, sounding a little funny, and then stopped and said, “I beg your pardon,” and turned on his heel to just walk away.

“Sorry,” I said to the ticket-taker, and went after him. He hadn’t gone far but he looked bad, real pale and the dark circles around his eyes even darker. “You okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” he snapped, too high. “Of course.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “If you want to wait here I can take care of the tickets.”

Felix bit his lip and then stopped, real fast, and took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said, all wobbly. “That would be helpful. Thank you.”

“Sure,” I said. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll be right back.”

I went back and got the tickets, and it seemed like too much to me but it ain’t the kind of thing you can haggle. So I paid up and went back quick to grab Felix, only he wasn’t there.

Kethe’s fucking cock. Shouldn’t’ve left him alone, Milly-fox. Knew his head wasn’t on straight and you left him alone, again, and there was too much trouble Felix could get into in a city like this when he wasn’t down the well. Spooked and crazy, that was a lot worse.

“Felix!” I yelled, on the off chance he was still in earshot and listening, but nothing, and I looked around for red hair a head over everyone else but couldn’t see nothing.

And I was about to lose my head myself when I remembered the binding-by-forms. I could find him that way, follow that thing like a cord connecting the two of us, like I could’ve done earlier when he’d been gone if I’d been able to walk further than bed to bathroom. So I went ahead and turned inward and went limping as fast as I could in the direction it told me to go.

He hadn’t gone far. Just a few streets over and down an alleyway where he was sitting down with his back to the corner where no one could sneak up on him.

“Kethe, Felix,” I said, all the fear running out of me so I was just fucking tired and a little pissed off too. I limped over and got myself down to a crouch. “Did something - happen?”

“No,” he said after a second where my stomach lurched. “It was just - someone looking at me. It felt like they were staring and I started feeling faint. Someone touched my arm asking if - asking if I was all right. Then...I don’t remember. I blinked and I was here.”

He let out a shaky laugh and pressed his forehead against his knees. Mumbled something I couldn’t understand and for once it was me asking someone to repeat themselves.

“Humiliating,” he said, clearer. “Presenting myself to the Convocation - like this? I’d rather die.”

That set me off right away and I growled “don’t you fucking dare.” Felix lifted his head and blinked at me.

“I didn’t mean…”

“Then don’t fucking say it,” I said. After what felt to me like too long he nodded and I relaxed, sort of, though I still felt like my heart was beating too fast.

“Let’s go back,” I said. He nodded and got himself up and followed me back to the inn, and didn’t say a word the whole way. And didn’t when we got back, either, just sat down and stared at his hands looking like he expected me to yell.

“I ain’t mad,” I said eventually, even if it was kind of itching at me, him looking like that.

“I am,” Felix said, and let out this awful kind of laugh that made me wince a little. Then he sighed and rubbed his eyes and said, “I’m fine now, Mildmay, you don’t have to keep looking at me like that. Or at least,” he added after a moment, “I am not seeing things, and I am not going to run off again.”

Well that makes it all good, then, I thought, only it’d just piss him off and I didn’t need that.

“They left the blindfold on,” Felix said, all of a sudden, and I froze and looked at him sideways, without moving, cause it felt like if I did he might bolt, like one of them cats in the Lower City went skittering away if you twitched in their direction. “I never saw their faces. I suppose they must have - must have heard about the - the magician whore and were delighted at the opportunity.” His breathing had gone quick and shallow.

“Felix,” I said, real careful, and he shook his head.

“I - never mind. This isn’t something you need to hear–”

“I ain’t gonna break,” I said. “Seems like maybe you need to say some stuff.”

Felix bit his lip again and I thought his eyes were maybe closed only I couldn’t see with his head down like it was and his hair in the way. “I don’t need to,” he said, so bad a lie I didn’t even call him on it.

“I do remember,” he said, finally. “Or - some things. I’ve been...for the last few days, but I didn’t want to…”

“You don’t need to protect me,” I said. “I’m Lower City, remember? I seen plenty of ugly shit.” And done it, too, but I didn’t think that was the point right now.

He just sat there breathing and I thought maybe he was going to clam up again, or slip back down, or something.

“When they...when they were doing what they did,” Felix said, quick like he couldn’t hold it back anymore, and I had to kind of wonder if he thought I didn’t know the word rape. “I don’t exactly know what - but I was there and at the same time I was in the Warrens under the Mirador with Malkar, and the fantôme telling me that if I let it in it wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again. And they wouldn’t let me go and wouldn’t stop; Malkar was whispering in one ear and the fantôme in the other and there was nowhere to go, and I knew when...I could feel myself breaking.”

He wasn’t looking at me, sitting there all stiff and staring at the floor, and I kept my mouth shut and held still too.

“I think they thought they had killed me,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I think they meant to...leave my body where no one would find it. But I don’t know for certain, because from there nothing is...clear. There are bits and pieces, I knew I needed to find you but I couldn’t think clearly enough to remember how. And when I finally...eventually I remembered where I needed to go, though when you weren’t there I thought…”

“Thought what,” I said, quiet, cause it seemed like too much noise might spook him.

“That you were gone,” he said, “or else’d never been there.” I didn’t say anything, and eventually he said, “I couldn’t think what to do, or where else to go. It’s a good thing that Mrs. Lettice recognized me and didn’t throw me out, and she said that you’d gone with Corbie a couple of days before, so at least I knew that you’d been alive then…” He took a big, shaky breath in and curled up a little, trying to make himself small, and I went over and sat down on his left side but didn’t touch him.

“Hey,” I said. “It’s okay.”

He made a nasty sort of choking noise. “How is it - I am mad again!”

“Maybe a little,” I said slowly, “but you’re you said, you been pretty clear since I’ve seen you. Not confused about stuff. And seems like you know who I am, generally, which...wasn’t always true last time. And if you do get confused…” I shrugged. “I’ll help.”

“That simple,” he said, all whispery.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “What’d you think I was going to do?”

Maybe I shouldn’t’ve asked. He looked away, and the first thing I got was mad because didn’t he get it yet, but then I guess last time this’d happened everyone he knew had forgotten his name about as fast as they could. Still, I wished he’d start believing me about me not going anywhere.

“Felix,” I said, “I ain’t leaving.”

He twitched a little and said, “I know that. Certainly not with the obligation d’âme binding you to me.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but that’s not why.

He gave me that quick sideways glance again, like looking at me straight on was too much. “Mildmay,” he said, and stopped. He looked down and started fidgeting with his hands again and finally just said, “thank you,” though it was sort of small and lost like he thought he should say something else. I shrugged.

“Ain’t nothing you need to thank me for,” I said, and the way he looked at me then was a little sharper and more straight on.

“I disagree,” he said. I almost told him that this was only happening in the first place along as how he’d probably saved my life when the Winter Fever was trying to kill me, so we were even, but I didn’t think he’d like that.

“Okay,” I said instead. Felix pinched his lips and kind of huffed out but he looked a little less like he thought someone was going to kick him and a little more like his usual self. So that was good.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t my dream right away. I was just in the Gardens in Troia, walking through and something was pulling me along so I knew where I had to go. Took me a while to notice I wasn’t limping but at least right then that didn’t seem weird.

I turned a corner and saw Felix first, only a bunch of the bruises that’d gone away were back. He wasn’t alone, though, but sitting next to Thamuris and the first thing I thought was but Felix ain’t dead.

Then Felix looked up at me and sort of smiled. “It worked,” he said, sounding a little surprised.

“What?” I said, and that was about when I figured out it wasn’t my own dream I was in, and maybe wasn’t an actual dream at all but one of Felix’s hocus dreams, and I looked over at Thamuris.

“Mildmay,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You’re not dead,” I said, which sounded real stupid the second it was out of my mouth, and it was like a mule’d kicked me in the chest. Thamuris’s smile wavered and he looked over at Felix, and yeah, I wasn’t too dumb to miss what that meant. “How long,” I said in a growl, and Felix flinched a little but I wasn’t gonna feel bad about that right now. “How long’ve you known–”

“Mildmay,” Felix said, like I was being unreasonable, but I wasn’t fucking having it.

“Two fucking years I thought,” I said, and powers and saints my voice broke and if I’d felt stupid before I felt even stupider now.

Thamuris stood up and walked over toward me. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Ain’t you needs to apologize,” I said. He didn’t look great, he was still sick and I could see that, but he wasn’t dead and that was one decent person I’d thought was and wasn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Felix said, his voice small, and fuck it was hard to stay mad at him especially when he looked worse here’n when we were awake.

“Yeah,” I said, “okay.” And then went over to Thamuris and hugged him and said, “m’glad you’re not dead.” And then looked over at Felix and said, “why d’you look like that?”

Felix hesitated a minute and looked down and said, “dreams operate on a logic of symbols,” which didn’t at first seem like much of an answer to me, only then I figured maybe in Felix’s head he hadn’t healed that much after all.

“Oh,” I said, and changed the subject. “Why’d you bring me here?” I asked, along as how I didn’t really think it was just about telling me Thamuris was alive.

Felix glanced at Thamuris and then looked back at me. “Thamuris thinks he may be able to help me,” he said. “From here. Within the Khloïdanikos.”

“Help you,” I said. “With…” I couldn’t figure out a nice way to put with your crazy so I just turned toward Thamuris.

“It’s possible,” he said. “Not for certain, but...maybe. I know the theory.”

I looked back at Felix and he was looking at me like he was waiting for permission. “What’s this got to do with me?”

Felix pressed his lips together and I could tell whatever it was he didn’t want to say, and if he didn’t want to say it probably wasn’t nothing I was gonna like.

“What,” I said, a little harder.

“I thought you should know, at least,” Felix said, but he was still an absolute shit liar and I didn’t buy that for a second, and I figured he’d know I could tell.

“If it doesn’t work,” Thamuris said, when Felix turned a little red and looked anywhere but at me. “It could make things worse.”

Kethe. “Worse how,” I said, and I was asking Thamuris but Felix actually answered this time.

“Permanent,” he said. “Apparently.” His voice was all light and breezy but he was fiddling with his hands. “And as you are - would be the primary victim of the aftereffects…”

Primary victim. Other than, you know, you, I felt like saying. “Fuck me sideways,” I said, “that’s helping?” Thamuris jerked back looking upset, but mostly I couldn’t help but feel sort of betrayed along as how this was the kind of dumbfuck thing I’d expect from Felix but I wouldn’t think he’d go along with it.

“It would only be a problem if it went wrong,” Felix said, and the way he sounded a little like he was pleading with me set my teeth right on edge.

“Pretty big fucking problem,” I said. “Felix–” I wanted to ask is it really that bad, but I guessed it wasn’t me seeing things. Only I kind of wondered if this was another thing where Felix was punishing himself again, along as how it seemed like maybe if it weren’t for me being primary victim of the aftereffects he’d’ve already gone for it even with the risk of being crazy for the rest of his life. And I thought about Felix like he was when I’d dragged him across Kekropia, maybe knowing who I was and maybe not, and felt sort of sick.

But I also didn’t want Felix stuck half in crazy neither, and it wasn’t like I had no ideas for helping, and I guessed at least he was asking instead of just charging ahead without.

“How risky,” I asked.

“Not very,” Thamuris said. “But I...can’t say for sure.”

I thought about that a second. “Felix,” I said, “Honest answer. Is this like the river? Or the–” I stopped before I said the whoring along as how I didn’t think Felix had maybe told Thamuris that bit. “Or the other thing?”

His eyes got big. “No,” he said, and the way he said it I believed him. “No, it isn’t–” He stopped and said, quieter, “it isn’t like that.”

“Okay,” I said. And in case he was wondering, I added, “you know even if...even if this goes wrong I still ain’t leaving.”

He blinked at me a little and then nodded. “I know,” he said, and I wasn’t sure he actually knew but at least he said it.

“Okay,” I said again. “You, uh. Have my permission, if that’s what you needed.”

Felix gave me this real small smile and my heart just about did a backflip in my chest. “Thank you,” he said, and I didn’t know what to say to that along as how you’re welcome didn’t quite feel right.

“So what,” I said, meaning what happens now, except then I got kicked out of the dream and woke up feeling like I hadn’t slept a minute even though the sun was blazing through the window. Took me a second to sort out what’d happened and then I rolled over quick, but Felix was still passed out cold curled up on the cot that was really too short for his legs.

And about all I could do then was sit there and wait for Felix to wake up.

I was waiting a long time, and I could feel myself getting more and more scared the longer it went without Felix waking up. I kept getting up and down checking if he was still breathing and if I could tell anything from his face, but there wasn’t nothing as far as I could see to tell me what was happening in his head with him and Thamuris.

I was about crawling out of my skin when Felix took a deep breath and rolled over, his eyes opening. He looked sort of confused and my heart flipped over for a minute before he yawned and pushed himself up, blinking at me like he was surprised to see me there.

“Mildmay?” He said, sort of dazed, and okay, least he knew who I was, that was good.

“Hey,” I said. “Are you - you know, okay?”

Felix looked like he was thinking that over. “It’s...I can’t say for certain,” he said. “It might take some...time. look like yourself, and I don’t feel any madder.”

I went limp. It wasn’t quite the everything’s good now I maybe wanted but it was sure as fuck better’n nothing. And I knew it wouldn’t’ve been anyways, along as how I didn’t really think those bruises I’d seen in Felix’s dream were about him being crazy, least not in the way where he thought I had a fox’s head. That was something else I guessed no Troians could fix even if I wished they could.

I realized Felix was looking at me like he was waiting for me to say something and worried what it might be.

“That’s good news,” I said. “Right?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course it is.”

“The other stuff we can figure out,” I said, maybe a little more sure than I really was, but maybe one of us needed to be.

“Do you really think so?” Felix asked, and powers, he sounded young when he said it, like he wanted to believe me but was scared of doing it. And I didn’t know if I believed me, either, but we’d made it this far and sure as fuck I wasn’t giving up.

“Yeah,” I said. “I really do.”

Felix sort of smiled at me, real small. “Well, then,” he said. “I suppose all we can do is move onward, isn’t it?”

“Guess so,” I said. Things were still a mess but that wasn’t nothing new, and in a couple days we were gonna be leaving this place and its Titan Clock behind. Maybe that’d help, too. Couldn’t hurt.

“Thank you,” Felix said again, like he had in the dream.

“For what?” I said, and this time I really didn’t know. It wasn’t like I’d actually done nothing. Felix shook his head a little and smiled at me, one of those little-but-true ones. And you know I’m a total fucking sap cause it warmed me all the way through.