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I liked Grimglass.

It took some getting used to, all right, especially how quiet it was, but I’d about had enough of cities. They weren’t none of them Mélusine, which was the only one I sometimes missed, stupid as it was. Wasn’t like Mélusine’d done much for me.

Grimglass, though. First thing I thought was I took one look at the stairs and felt my hip seize up like I’d already started climbing. Felix looked from me to the stairs and I could see him thinking well, shit, only he’d a said it all flash.

“It’ll be fine,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.”

“Of course we will,” Felix said, with this look on his face that basically said or die trying.

Nobody ended up dying, which was good. Nice thing about Corambis’s thing for steam power and wheels and everything was it meant they could rig up a sort of lift, and the people building it were so busy doing the building that I could watch them do it with no one staring. I thought maybe it was a kind of thing I’d like to learn. Not the magic bits, but the rest.

It all seemed like a little much to me, except then I rode it for the first time and I just about yelped like a dog when it started going up but standing at the top of the stairs and looking down, I had to admit it was nice.

“Thanks,” I told Felix, and the look on his face was better than the lift. Way better.

Felix up and vanished into the library the second he got the chance. He probably would’ve stayed there forever without eating if I hadn’t dragged him out sometimes for meals. He said the previous Virtuer had just shoved books in wherever they fit so it’d be impossible to find anything. He dithered over a lot of ways of organizing them before settling on category and author, and then he’d mutter to himself about what category this book or that one really belonged in.

I liked watching him at it, even if sometimes he sort of seemed to forget I was there. Maybe cause of that. He wasn’t paying no attention to what he looked like or how other people’d look at him.

If it was a decent day then I’d go visit Kay. Vanessa eyed me sideways at first but she seemed to sort out that I wasn’t up to no good and she was a little stiff but not so bad. Polite, and sharp as a tack, and it made me miss Mehitabel a bit. And yeah, maybe I could write a letter, but I didn’t know that I wanted to do that. Seemed like asking for trouble, especially along as how I’d have to ask Felix where to send it and I still didn’t want to get Felix thinking too much about Melusine.

It was quiet almost all the time which at first was weird and actually spooked me a little, along as I’d spent my whole life in cities basically and was used to the noise. After I got used to it it was kind of nice, though. Peaceful-like, and when I was restless or Felix and I were sick of each other I could go walking on the beach, which wasn’t exactly easy for all the rocks but I managed. Felix didn’t like it - what if a wave sweeps you off your feet, he said, what if you slip and crack your skull on a boulder, but I just looked at him and told him it wasn’t up to him where I went walking and I didn’t need him hovering always, and he backed off.

Felix didn’t never go down with me but once and he stayed barely two minutes, wild-eyed with his back up against the cliffs, before bolting. So I guessed my idea of teaching Felix to swim wasn’t going nowhere anytime soon.

The other good thing was Felix. He was trying, and doing okay, mostly. Not always, but he didn’t get nasty the way where he’d rip you to shreds for no reason, or if he started in and I called him on it he’d stop and even apologize. So that was better, anyway.

We’d been there maybe two months when Felix up and said out of nowhere, “Mildmay, are you happy?” with a sort of weird look on his face. I eyed him sideways.

“Yeah,” I said slowly. “I guess.”

“You guess,” Felix said, sort of sharp. I shrugged.

“I guess I don’t know what you mean.”

“It should be a simple yes or no question,” Felix said, and I could hear him getting short with me.

“Things’re good,” I said, choosing my words real carefully. “Can’t complain.”

“You’re not - bored?” he asked. “Lonely?” I shrugged, and Felix stood up and paced a few steps, twisting his hands together.

“What sorta ghost is haunting you,” I said, along as I was tired of guessing,and I thought for a second he was going to snap but then he took a deep breath and I guess decided not to.

“This is my exile,” he said, and I thought oh, really, we’re still doing this, only I guess it showed on my face because he added quick, “I don’t mean that I think you will leave. Only should feel free to go wherever you like. If you wished to go back to Esmer, to visit anyone there…”

“Like who,” I said bluntly.

“Corbie?” he said. “Or Cyriack, you seemed to be getting along with him - but that’s not the point. It wouldn’t have to be to see anyone. Just if you wanted to. I don’t want you to feel...confined.” He gave me one of those smiles, like when he was teasing only this one seemed a little like it wasn’t the good kind. “I wouldn’t want us to get sick of each other.”

I thought maybe what he meant was you get sick of me but I couldn’t say that, and I didn’t want to know if he meant I get sick of you so I just said, “okay.”

Felix blinked at me. “‘Okay?’”

“Yeah,” I said. “I get it. If I wanna go somewhere other than just town I’ll let you know.” He looked so surprised it was almost funny. I guess he’d thought I was just raring to go and not cause of him not saying it was okay. “S’that what was bothering you?” I asked. Felix pressed his lips together, which was as good as a yes. “I ain’t bored. And I ain’t lonely neither.”

“Oh,” Felix said, in a sort of small voice. “Well. That’s good.” And he gave me one of those smiles, the small but real ones that about made my heart do this funny little flop like a fish on dry land. I was still stupid for those smiles.

It was Vendémiaire turning Brumaire when we got our first real visitor.

She came walking right up to the front door and knocked, didn’t send a message ahead or nothing, and I was the one what opened the door along as Felix was upstairs buried in the library where he wouldn’t hear nothing short of someone shouting in his ear.

Corbie pushed back her hood and smiled at me though I thought maybe she was a little nervous. “Hey,” she said. “Figured maybe you were about ready for visitors.”

Like an idiot, first thing I said was, “don’t you have class?”

“Off for the week,” she said. “So are you gonna let me in?”

Right. “Not a lot of people come out here visiting,” I said by way of excuse. She gave me this sort of worried look and I added, “I don’t mind. M’used to keeping to myself mostly. And there’s Felix.” Who I figured was who she was really here to see.

She didn’t seem like she believed me, exactly, but she dropped it and looked around. “It’s nicer than I thought it’d be,” she said, sounding surprised. And, “what’s that?” pointing at the lift.

“S’for me,” I said, a little awkward. “It’s a lot of stairs.”

“Oh!” she said, and seemed a little embarrassed about it, changing the subject fast. “Where’s Felix?”

“Library,” I said, gesturing up. She nodded but didn’t head that way, just plopped down on a chair and looked at me.

“How’s the...hocus stuff,” I asked, not knowing exactly what she was waiting for. She brightened right off. Far as I could tell hocuses always liked telling you about it, or at least Felix did.

“Good,” she said. “I passed all my exams, easy. And I’m learning a lot.” She paused, and then said, “I miss Felix’s lessons, though.”

“You should tell him that,” I said.

“Tell me what?” Felix said, and then, “Corbie?” like he thought he might be making her up.

She kind of waved and smiled at him. “Hey,” she said, like she had to me, and Felix blinked a couple times and then shook himself and smiled back.

“This is an unexpected pleasure,” he said. “If you’d written ahead–”

“I didn’t expect anything fancy,” she said. “Just wanted to see the pair of you. Like I told Mildmay, classes are off and a lot of folks are going home and I figured…” She did a little shrug, and I got it. All those flash boys probably had nice homes and families, and Corbie probably wanted to go back to Bernatha as much as I wanted to go to Troia again. And maybe she thought we might kick her out.

“Well,” Felix said after a second where maybe he was figuring the same thing I was, “you’re certainly welcome, even if we can’t offer much in the way of creature comforts. Your studies are going well, I’m sure?”

When he asked she looked sort of embarrassed and said, “all right, yeah.” Felix raised his eyebrows a little and she shrugged and said, “it’s good.”

“Such enthusiasm,” Felix said dryly, and she blushed a little more but also gave him a narrow-eyed sort of glare. “There’s no need to be modest, Corbie,” he said, a little easier. “I know you have talent, and certainly determination. Both serve you well in studying thaumaturgy.”

Well, I thought, that was mighty nice. Corbie looked at me like she wasn’t sure what to say to that, and Felix looked like maybe he was surprised he’d said it, and walked over to sit down too. “And no one is giving you any trouble?” He asked.

“Not mostly,” Corbie said, and Felix made a little “hm.” She straightened up and lifted her chin and said, “most of ‘em only when I do better at something, and I don’t care about them.

“Good,” Felix said firmly. He looked at me and said, “shall I get us some refreshments?”

“Sure,” I said, and I sat down too, in the last chair. Three was about all we had. We didn’t figure there was need for more.

“How’re you,” Corbie asked after Felix left, and asked it like it wasn’t just for politeness but she really wanted to know.

I sort of shrugged. “Okay,” I said. “Not like there’s a lot to tell. Things’re quiet, but that ain’t bad. Not looking forward to the winter.”

“Cause of the cold?”

I shrugged. Cause of my fucked up lungs. Wasn’t like she didn’t know that, but I didn’t feel like saying. “Winter in Melusine was bad enough. It’s colder here. Probably storms, and Felix ain’t gonna like that.”

She cocked her head a little to the side and I realized maybe she didn’t know about Felix and water, but at least I was saved having to explain by Felix coming back with tea and crackers, and then he and Corbie got to talking about hocus stuff across each other, which of course I didn’t follow.

It was mostly okay, though. They both seemed happy about it, and they weren’t trying to leave me out or nothing. I sat there and thought about home and how maybe this place was starting to feel like one. First time anywhere had in a long time.

It was weird having someone else around. Not that Corbie was loud, or annoying, but just having someone else where I’d gotten used to it being just Felix and me. It wasn’t bad, though, and I could tell Felix was happy to have her. Happy to have someone who could talk about magic that he actually liked, probably.

She wasn’t shy about me either, just came to my room the second night and said, “so, you want to?”

“Um,” I said, and she just looked at me with eyebrows up and I thought you know what, fuck it.

I didn’t know if Felix knew or not. He didn’t say anything about it.

A week went by fast, anyway, and Corbie left back to Esmer promising to come back when she could. It seemed awful quiet that evening.

I could tell Felix was thinking about something while he was listening to me read - it was a new book, one I liked with a bunch of Corambin stories though I kept thinking they’d be better told aloud than written down, and I said so.

“But what if everyone who knows them dies?” Felix said. “This way, they’ll be preserved for longer.”

I shook my head. “Ain’t the same. Besides, that’s why you tell stories, so other people know ‘em and can tell ‘em themselves.”

“Memory is imperfect,” Felix said. “Details change from person to person, and the original–”

“If it makes a better story why shouldn’t it change,” I said. “Stories don’t have to stay the same. It’s like…” I thought back. “Like you were saying about magic and - metaphors. Don’t need to be one right way to tell a tale.”

Felix sort of huffed, but I could tell he didn’t have an argument against that. Maybe he would’ve - Felix could have an argument for everything if he wanted - but like I said, he was distracted.

“What’re you thinking about,” I said, when he didn’t come out with it.

“Oh,” he said, “just something Corbie said.”

“About her missing you teaching,” I guessed, and he gave me a startled look. “She told me,” I said.

Felix was quiet for a while, looking over at the fire. “I never thought of myself as…well. A teacher.” He laughed, a little, but not really like something was funny. “I suppose it simply comes as a bit of a surprise.”

I thought about telling him again you ain’t Strych but even now I didn’t want to say that name and I didn’t think Felix really wanted to hear it. “D’you miss doing it?”

Felix looked like he was actually thinking about that. “I suppose sometimes,” he said. “I have you to teach,” he added, with a quick flash of a smile. “Though you won’t need it too much longer.”

My face got hot. “Don’t tease,” I mumbled.

“I’m not,” he said, and he did sound serious. “You can read perfectly well on your own, now. Not quickly, perhaps, and of course there’s always vocabulary to learn, but…”

I didn’t know what to say. I really didn’t. I just stood there frozen and stupid until Felix said, “ah well. So it is. Shall we back to it?” And he gestured at the book I was holding.

“You’ve been a good teacher,” I said finally, and Felix got that look on his face like he was pleased, really pleased, but didn’t want anyone to know about it. And it felt damn good knowing I’d put it there.

I was right about Felix and the storms, and it wasn’t one of those things where I was happy about being right. Not at all.

The first time a real nasty one blew in off the sea Felix was just about climbing up the walls. “The sea can’t get at us here,” I said, and Felix shot me a nasty look and said, “I know that,” and then shut himself in his room, where he stayed for the rest of the day until the storm blew itself out.

When he showed his face again he still looked pale and spooked. “It’s gonna happen sometimes,” I said. “Storms like that. Probably a lot during the winter.”

“Yes,” Felix said, all clipped. “I imagine so.” I eyed him, trying to decide if there was a safe way to say what I needed to, and thought probably there wasn’t.

“You gonna be okay?” I said anyway, even knowing I was asking for him to take my head off.

“I suppose we’ll find out, won’t we?” he said, even shorter. “I’ll attempt to spare you any hysterics.” I wanted to say I didn’t mean it like that, but it didn’t seem like I was going to get nowhere with him like he was right now.

I didn’t bring it up again along as I didn’t know how, and maybe a week later we got our second, even worse, wind and rain and fuck me for an emperor’s snotrag but it was cold and miserable. And Felix was twitchy like before and kept glancing in the direction of the ocean like he thought it might come creeping in through the windows if he wasn’t watching,

But he went off to bed like normal and after checking to see the light was on I did too.

I woke up to Felix shaking me and the wind howling like the wolves of Arcadia. “Mildmay,” Felix said, all breathless, “we have to get out.”

“What?” I said, still half asleep and confused and trying to sort out what Felix was on about.

“The sea is rising,” Felix said, “we’re going to drown,” and even if his eyes were wild like a spooked horse he sure sounded clear on that.

I blinked and sat up and eyed him. I could hear the waves crashing even over the wind but it still sounded pretty far away to me. “You sure?” I said, and Felix gave me this desperate betrayed kind of look that hurt seeing. I rubbed my eyes and I knew he’d probably feel better if we went out and he saw for himself we weren’t in no danger, but fuck if I wanted going out there. “Felix,” I said, “we ain’t gonna drown.”

Felix shook his head. “You don’t know that,” he said. “There’s water on the floor and it’s dripping through the ceiling–”

Fuck me sideways. “Prob’ly a leak,” I said, but Felix was breathing fast and panicky and like he couldn’t get a full breath, and I didn’t think he was really hearing me. I levered myself up and my hip hurt like a bitch but I reached out and took his arms and said, “Felix, look at me,” and I had to repeat it but he did look and I could feel him shaking a little. “You trust me?” I asked, and even if I was pretty sure, I was still scared he’d say no.

But he nodded, and I nodded back, and said, “I’m telling you we’ll be okay. Promise. We ain’t gonna drown.”

Felix bit his lip in the way he only did when he wasn’t thinking and said, “are you sure?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure.”

And like that he went limp and looked about like he was going to collapse, but at least he didn’t look like he was going to go bolting off into the storm no more.

“Okay,” I said. “So, you wanna sleep in here?”

“I don’t want to throw you out of your own room,” Felix said, his voice kind of shaky.

“Not what I asked,” I said. “‘Sides, not like we haven’t shared a bed before.”

I thought a little Felix might argue with me and slink off embarrassed, but I guess he was still feeling pretty bad along as he just nodded meek as you please, and it wasn’t like it was the most comfortable but it wasn’t the most uncomfortable either and it definitely helped with the cold.

In the morning the storm’d died down to just rain, and sure enough Felix’s room had sprung a nasty leak, so that was nice. And Felix seemed like he wasn’t sure how he should be acting, mostly like he wanted to pretend nothing’d happened.

Over lunch he cleared his throat and said, “about last night,” and I decided I might as well cut him off there.

“If you’re gonna apologize,” I said, “don’t.”

He turned a little pink and said, “I wasn’t going to,” which was pretty definitely a lie, but I let him have it. Then he sort of laughed, the way he did when something wasn’t really funny, and said, “so much for avoiding hysterics.”

I shrugged. “It was all right. You kept me from freezing. I think we’re gonna need more blankets.”

Felix looked at me kind of like I’d given him an unexpected present, and then cleared his throat and shook himself and said, “I don’t think that could go amiss,” and then gave me a real smile, one of the nice ones where he wasn’t trying to charm you but was actually pleased with something you did, and it was good I was sitting down cause it made me a little weak in the knees.

Right along with the storms I could feel the Winter Fever sneaking up on me with the tickle in my throat letting me know okay, Milly-Fox, hope you’re ready for a miserable time of it.

Course, the first time I so much as cleared my throat Felix was all over me like a fussy hen, practically pouring tea down my throat and wrapping me up in blankets. I guess considering how last year’d gone maybe it wasn’t surprising he’d be worried, but it wasn’t exactly relaxing having him hovering around like I might faint if he weren’t watching.

“I’m gonna be okay,” I tried to tell him, and he gave me a look like I’d told him I was going to go dancing with the Queen of Escalot.

“You will be,” he said, “so long as we are diligent about ensuring it doesn’t get bad.” I thought about telling him neither of us had a lot of control over that, but I figured that’d just make him worse.

Course my stupid body had to go and prove him right a couple days later when I was shivering and achy and couldn’t do nothing but curl up in bed and feel fucking miserable, but Felix didn’t say I told you so or nothing, just hovered and got me tea and soup and helped me sit up when I couldn’t breathe for trying to hack putrid green shit out of my lungs. That was nice, actually, even if I didn’t like the worried look stuck on his face.

He brought in a practitioner who did some stuff that helped me breathe a little better for a while and after he left Felix stood there looking at me with arms crossed.

“What,” I said, though it kind of hurt my throat talking.

“It’s nothing,” he said, and then sighed and said, “I was only thinking that I should learn some of their craft, if I can. That way I might actually be able to help.

“Are helping,” I said, and Felix sort of huffed.

“Well,” he said, dry as bone, “I suppose at least I don’t have to whore myself paying for it this year,” and I couldn’t but flinch. His eyes widened and he added quickly, “I don’t mean for you to feel guilty–”

“S’not it,” I said, even if it was, a little. “Just…” I didn’t know how to say that if it spooked him me being sick, me thinking about him in Bernatha made me feel sicker. Felix pressed his lips together and shook his head a little before coming over and adjusting the blankets on me, like they needed adjusting.

Maybe it was that conversation what gave me some of the nastiest dreams I’d had in a while, ones where I was back in the Bastion and Strych had Felix and I kept trying to attack him but there was a chain around my neck kept getting tighter. And then I was wandering around the Lower City alone, someone following me and I couldn’t stop fucking coughing. And I needed to get back to somewhere but I couldn’t remember where, I just knew I was running out of time and if I didn’t make it something bad was going to happen to Felix, and then I smelled something burning and realized what it was and that I was too late.

Which was when I woke up just about drowning in my own lungs. I sat up and coughed until I puked, and didn’t really know what to do then along as I didn’t want to try standing up.

I guess Felix heard, though, and came in and made this sort of noise like he was disgusted but also sorry for me.

“Sorry,” I croaked, only it didn’t come out sounding much like that.

“Don’t apologize,” Felix said. “Let me run you a warm bath.”

If that didn’t sound good enough to make me cry. “Okay,” I said, my eyes prickling like I might. Felix came over and sort of pushed my hair back a little and then pulled away and cleared his throat, turning a little red.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said, and went out, and I missed him which was stupid along as he was still basically right there and also he was drawing a bath for me and couldn’t exactly do that and stay here at the same time.

The bath was nice. Helped me feel like I could breathe a little more again, and made my leg feel a little less sore too. And I guess I thought if my lungs had to be stupid like they were then this wasn’t a bad way to get through it.

I crawled out of being sick though it seemed to take fucking forever, but I guess not as long as it took Grimglass to crawl out of winter. Sure as fuck rained a lot. We got the leak fixed, at least. I was kind of hoping for snow along as I’d never really been somewhere it snowed winters, but the closest we got was an ice storm, which just meant staying indoors all day. I finished up the book of stories and started on another one.

Wasn’t the most exciting but it wasn’t bad neither, though Felix was sure excited when the weather turned and going out wasn’t an ordeal needed him to put on seven layers of clothing. Not to say I wasn’t too. I was getting pretty sick of inside.

One night Felix came back late from one of his trips to town, late enough I was about starting to think he might’ve gotten lost, and he had a funny look on his face that had me asking straight off what’d happened.

“Nothing,” he said, but he sounded funny too. He didn’t seem upset, exactly, just a little off, but it still made me nervous.

“Seems like something,” I said. Felix gave me a dirty look and hung up his coat without answering me, and then fidgeted a little.

“Nothing you need to worry about,” he said. “Is that better?”

“Would be if I believed you,” I said, and he turned sort of red.

“I...ran into the Duke of Murtagh,” he said, turning around and fussing with his coat again like he was looking for something in the pockets. “It was an...interesting encounter. That’s all.”

Well, okay, I thought, that could be all, seemed like it would be awkward, ‘cept that it wasn’t like they hadn’t met before and had normal conversations without Felix acting like this, and it was none of my business but my hackles still went up. “Interesting how,” I said.

Felix pressed his lips together so hard they went real thin. “Nothing bad,” he said, and turned a little pinker and murmured something like on the contrary that I couldn’t quite hear. “It was just unexpected.” I just looked at him, and Felix sort of huffed. “Mildmay, really.

I didn’t say nothing, along as it seemed like maybe Felix was about to burst out with it on his own and sometimes it happened faster if I kept my mouth shut.

“He, ah - invited me to stay the night,” Felix said, not looking at me at all, and yeah, this wasn’t exactly the most comfortable for me neither but fuck me sideways I was worried. “And I said no.”

That’s what’s got you tied up in knots?” I said before I could stop myself. “Why? Did he–”

“No, no,” Felix said, and he was a proper shade of red now. “He was a perfect gentleman. Very - gracious.”

“So what, then,” I said, and Felix furrowed his eyebrows and frowned at nothing and said, “I didn’t want to.”

Before I could figure that out, he added, “or - I did. But I didn’ seemed like a bad idea.”

“Yeah?” I said carefully.

“I don’t think…” Felix made a sort of ‘ha’ sound. “I do not think that I can be trusted with...sexual relationships right now. Or rather...I don’t trust myself.”

I sat down, and I wasn’t sure what to think of that. On the one hand it was true Felix hadn’t generally done the best choosing people to fuck, ‘cept Gideon, and that hadn’t been great for Gideon. On the other hand I didn’t know I liked that don’t trust myself thing. “What d’you mean.”

“I mean…” Felix rubbed his eye, the good one. “Just what I said.”

“Don’t trust yourself with what?”

“Not to make a rat’s nest of it,” he said, without hesitating. “Not to - I don’t know.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, still not sure how I felt about that even if he was probably right, and it was smart of him to know it, at least.

“And I–” He wasn’t looking at me, again. “I haven’t...since Bernatha.” Oh, I thought, my stomach doing something funny, and Felix rushed right ahead. “I think I should...I want to wait.” And he looked at me like he was expecting me to say something nasty, and yeah, I thought about what Felix’d said or not said about how the only way people could love him was if they were fucking him and I thought maybe this was a good thing he wasn’t going that way now.

“Okay,” I said. “I mean, it ain’t my business. But seems like you know what you gotta do.”

He gave me a look like he thought I might be having him on, maybe. But then he let out a big breath and relaxed and said, “I think I do,” and I thought maybe he’d wanted to hear that from someone else.

I didn’t know where the cat came from. It just showed up one day, slinking around outside the lighthouse. I saw it and it stopped and looked back at me, and fuck if it wasn’t the ugliest, raggediest, animal I’d ever seen. Ginger coat and ripped up ears and skinny as a rail.

I crouched down and clicked my tongue to see if I could get it to come closer, but it just stared at me with yellow eyes like it was thinking I ain’t falling for that.

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s fair.” I stood up and went inside, poured a little cream into a bowl and brought it out. Set it down and took a few steps back, though I felt like a little bit of an idiot. It was just a cat, and it wasn’t like we had a barn or nothing, or much of a problem with mice or rats.

It was just...I dunno. I felt bad, I guess.

The next day the cat was back, sitting outside the door a few feet away. It got ready to run when I sort of took a step in its direction but when I stopped it stopped, and a minute later started washing itself.

This time I went with some dried fish. She - I’d decided to go with that - barely waited til I was out of arm’s reach before going for it, and it was gone in two blinks.

“Hungry, huh?” I said. She swished her tail, and when I held down a hand I thought for a minute she might come but she turned and waltzed away.

“Well all right, your ladyship,” I said after her, but of course she didn’t mind it. I went back in and Felix was in the kitchen heating water for tea, and by the look on his face I knew what he was going to ask before he did.

“Who were you talking to,” he asked, trying not to sound suspicious and not really getting it.

I shrugged. “There’s a cat hanging around.”

“A cat,” Felix said. I shrugged, but I could feel my face getting hot.

“She seemed hungry,” I said. Felix stared at me and shook his head a little.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you’d go adopting strays,” he said ruefully, “considering that was more or less what you did with me.”

For a second I thought about saying the cat’s kind of got red hair too but decided I’d better not. “You weren’t a stray,” I said. Felix kind of twitched his eyebrows at me and I repeated, “you weren’t.”

“I don’t suppose it would do any good to mention that we don’t need a cat,” Felix said, dodging.

“Not like I’m bringing her inside or nothing,” I said. “Just making sure she don’t starve.”

“Mmhm,” Felix said. “Wait a week. You’ll have it sleeping on your bed.”

“I won’t,” I said. “She doesn’t want to come in. Won’t even let me come close.”

“Mmhm,” he said again, in his sure, Mildmay, whatever you say voice, and then sort of huffed. “So long as it doesn’t try to sleep on my bed.”

Week later when I opened the kitchen door, the cat slipped in next to my legs and went straight for the pantry. Set up in the corner and looked at me daring me to try kicking it out.

“Yeah,” I said. “You and Felix are going to get along. Got some of the same attitude.”

“I told you,” Felix said when he saw her. They gave each other a look like they were sizing each other up trying to decide if there was room in this house for the both of them.

She went over and rubbed against his legs, and Felix narrowed his eyes at her like he thought she might be making fun of him.

“She needs a bath,” he said. I noticed he wasn’t calling her ‘it’ and figured that counted as acceptance.

She didn’t like the bath at all.

I decided to call her Jenny, like in the story with the street girl what turns out being a lady with an estate. It was one of the nice ones, and not real, but I figured it fit.

Maybe that was all of us, a little bit. Climbing out of the shit where we’d started, a little at a time.

I didn’t tell Felix, but I kind of figured Jenny’d end up sleeping on his bed.

I had a feeling he wouldn’t end up minding.