Riposte. Chapter 8

by D'Artagnon

Bedlam Rising

Time, as they say, has this terrible sense of humor and logic. When you are in a hurry, time moves too fast. When you are feeling good about life, time passes you by in the space of a few blinks. But when you are in the grips of despair, lost and alone, a second, a bare fraction of time shorter than it takes for lightning to flash the sky and the afterimage of lightning to fade from your eyes and your mind, time gets sluggish. It turns, changing from the fleet flicker of hummingbird wings into the deliberate, measured ponderous tread of an uncooperative bison with it's nose stuck in the sweet grasses of the distant prairies.

I dropped the knife, just opened my hand and let gravity do the rest. In the space of time it took for that blade to sink down, fatally attracted to the floor, I felt all the anger and hatred and anguish and wall-slammin' frustration well up in me, and just slide out. It coated my skin in a thickness of unfeeling, thick as the skin of an orange, and just as tough. It should have burst out like a thousand roman candles, showering sparks of pure emotion up into the sky and spraying the colors of my fear and pain, my envy, my disgust and my total mortified frustration at all the things going on around me.

It should have, but it didn't.

Instead, it was like an un-feeling came over me. A lack. A hollowness too deep and too wide for any torrent or cataract to fill. Even the endless power and flow of the Dreaming escaped me. And it felt good.

It felt good not to feel. To have that orange-skin armor around me, keeping me from sensing things. I wallowed in it. It was like I could just turn off caring, could just walk away.

My mother was dead. My father was equally dead. And while my hand of its own had not been the cause of it, it was my fault. My responsibility. Some mighty warrior I was. I had left my most unguarded place open, un-armored, and then presented it as a target to my enemies. Some great Changeling savior I was. In the space of one day and one night, I'd laid my own soul open to the cruelest cut of all, and paid for that mistake in the dearest coin of all.

I sank a moment behind the knife, just letting my legs buckle, falling to my knees. But even that was in slow motion. I barely felt my body folding up on the ground. I never registered, on the purely physical, sensory level when my forehead came into contact with the corner of the kitchen countertop. I didn't notice the pulsing of blood gently gushing from me in a pattern of high and low tides. Gush, seep. Gush, seep. Gush, seep.

I had done this. I had killed my family. Korbesh had set me up and I took the fall. Sure, he probably had intended to kill me in that trap. I can see his face now, holding my hair up so he can get his gargantuan, nightmarish jaws open around my head, a sword of silver and Cold Iron buried hilt deep in my ribcage. I could smell the acrid foulness of his breath as the Glamour and air left me. I could even see the streaks of red from other victims and the yellow stains on his horrible, relentless flat teeth as he prepared to digest my entire cranium in one smiling-too-much bite.

I imagined how he might have set the trap, knowing that I'd have to travel with my parents to reach the hospital. He'd need two cars, at least. One large enough to push my parents' car off the road, and another to box them in, give them no place to go. Maybe three cars, it would take, and the very poor timing of some hapless overland hauling driver stuck in the slow lane, obeying the law. That's all it would take.

The right turn, the right push, the right circumstance, and WHAMO! Instant dead Satry, film at eleven (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean in the digital age). One Lord Marshal, protector of the realm, turned to ground-browned hamburger. Just like in the movies. Just one more notch on Korbesh's sword belt. Just another brick in the wall.

It's funny how the details slip in while you're hurting the most. You experience so many things at those breakneck speeds of ordinary life that your happy-go-lucky little mind just kind of losses track of all the little but oh so important things in the background. I can remember hearing, on the phone, when I thought I was talking to Juan's mother, something like a snicker and someone hissing at someone else to be quiet. Why didn't I process that at the time? Why didn't that make sense to me, that there was something amiss? It should have set my teeth on edge and made me even more cautious than we had been.

Too late now, I kept telling myself. Nothing you can do. Kenny's right. It doesn't work that way.

I reached the kitchen knife, my hand sort of sliding over to it as I lay there, a small pool of blood gathering ambitions and floor space beside my head. It was the same one, the very same one, that Kenny had used on me, to Enchant me that first time. The same one that I had used to Enchant him to jump start his Fae soul after the dragon that had been my brother very nearly stamped Kay Neth out. Like I said, the details were suddenly streaming in at me in such power that I could quite clearly, without a doubt, have drawn every little twist and shine of that knife handle's wood grain pattern, and matched it more perfect than a digi cam.

No. I couldn't end my life, my immortal existence with this blade. It had been used for giving life and joy. It had been an instrument of love. Nourishment and love had flowed from this knife as my mother prepared dinner for us all. Kenny's devotion had flowed from it as he brought me into the awareness of my doubled-existence of the Changeling Way. My devotion had flowed back to him when I rekindled his heart-Glamour with this simple, elegant and sharp edge of bright metal. I would not make petty the deeds of this sweet blade by fouling it with my own Undoing suicide strike.

But there was another weapon nearby that I could do it with.

The hybrid. That twisted merging of silver and Cold Iron that had been used to slay the kitt and the unicorn was still in the garage. Its whole purpose was to kill Changelings and their Garou allies. Might as well give the bastard blade its rightful feast. Time to let that hybrid soul drinker have a sip of something Robby flavored.

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I had a new lease on life after Cody healed me from a wound that had been slowly killing me even though it was properly healed. Tonight, I'm about to go grab my enemy's secret weapon from my own garage and find a convenient and final way to fling myself on it.

The house phone rang. That's probably Kenny, I remember thinking. Him or Mitch, or the cops. Or Korbesh, calling to gloat. I didn't have time for any of them anymore. I only had enough time to kill myself and be done with it. Be done with the revolving door on heaven that we Changelings have as a birthright here on this world. Be Undone by my own hand. So I let it ring.

Then, as it rang out the fourth time, something dramatic and powerful and Earth shaking happened. I heard the answering machine pick up the call, and heard my mother's voice, again.

"Hi, sorry, but we can't get to the phone right now. Please leave a message and a number we can reach you at and we'll get back as soon as possible. Wait for the... ." her recorded voice said and then the obligatory beep sounded, giving an unnatural punctuation to my Mom's, at times, warped sense of humor. It all seemed so spread out to me, suddenly. Like Bilbo said, butter scraped over too much bread. I heard all the little nuances of her voice in that moment, captured and spat out randomly as it was. The subtle lilt when she said "Hi," and not "Hiya," like she was more prone to do in social situations. The hurried pattern of her voice as she spoke, trying to time things for the inevitable beep. There were so many little bits of my Mom's voice in that moment, that half-wit of humor dumped onto a tiny microchip for the world to hear and question if she were really there and listening.

For a scant moment, I found myself questioning if she were really gone.

Then I heard his voice.

"Robby? You there? Robyn, please... don't leave me! Don't doom me to walk as an empty shell through eternity! I love you Robby French. Don't you dare die on me! Pick up!" He paused, and in that bare fraction of a second, I could almost picture the look of anguish and concern on his face. I could hear the rush of wind and the churning of tires. "Goddamnit, Robby! Pick up!!" he pleaded, as if knowing that I was right there, that I had, mere moments ago, had the knife, his knife, my knife, my mother's knife, in my hand, ready to do the deed to make me dead. "Hurry, Poppa!"

"Keep talking to him," I heard Mitch gently order, a voice in the background noise of Kenny's cell phone..

As if in a trance, I walked to the phone. My hand slid out over the receiver, smoothly. I'd done it a thousand times before. Such a casual movement, just touching a phone prior to answering it. Such an automatic response to that blistering insistent ring. And yet, as I touched the handset, still in the cradle, I looked down and found myself wondering why I hadn't just picked up the phone yet. I had something important to start, or to finish, rather. That something being my life. That something being Me, but not just me. Me and Kenny. Robyn and Kay Neth.

"Robby?" he pleaded, his voice seeming to stretch and warp in my ear, as if he were speaking into an echoey tube, tinny and flat and bouncing around all at once.

I jerked my hand back from the phone like it was wicked hot and about to scorch my skin all crackledidy black, like hot dogs too long on the fire.

Touching the phone was almost picking it up, almost letting him back in. How could I? He loves you, something whispered in my ears, stirring the air around my horns. Why should he? I don't deserve love. I don't deserve parents or love or joy or light. Joy and light, that's what my father always thought of me. But he wasn't my father, just the sperm donor this time around. And Mom wasn't Mother, just the surrogate. Just the not-quite mortal that housed the biological unit I had stolen and entered as a way to escape the eternal Banality of life on this wretched world. This meat I wore wasn't me. Inside, I was already dead. It would be a merciful thing to let the meat and the memory separate at last, to sink into the Oblivion of that good night.

Merciful and true and honorable and worthy and repentant and... and...

And I couldn't think of anything else. All my words left me. There were just no more words in me to describe the empty, eating, hungry ache inside where my mortal parents and real parents and real self all seemed to just have dropped away into the darkness of a painful, dirty, desiccated pit of all consuming nothing.

Nothing. That's all I was. That's all my centuries of existence had earned me. And nothing was what I was fully prepared to become. So be it.

Still staring at the phone, I vaguely heard Kenny's voice, his sobs. Not long now, Beloved, I thought. (Sweet gods, I actually remember thinking that!) Not long now and all the pain will be over. No more tears, you! No more crying.

I turned and walked to the door to the garage, a trickle of red ichor drying against my eyelashes, tracing an anime tattoo of my own blood around my eye and cheek. And that, too, seemed appropriate. I had my parent's blood on my hands, metaphorically, why shouldn't my blood, which came from their shared blood, be plain on my face for all to see. My own guilt distilled and slathered on in thick, creeping red.

"No Words, remember? Remember?! Well, it's not true! Words aren't ever enough, but I still have a whole lifetime, a whole millennium of lifetimes to try to say No Words to you! Bu, please! Just answer the damn phone!"

I heard his words, even as I entered the garage, stepping down one step to the cold bare, smooth concrete. I could smell the dank aroma of my own socks and tee shirts. Maybe there were some of Mom and Dad's things in there too, but I could smell my own more. I guess everyone likes their own brand best. No lingering traces of rose and sandalwood, no musky vapors of Old Spice. Nothing alive in the house but me. Nothing lingering in the air but me.

And in a few short moments, even that would be just a distant memory. There was comfort in that. Let the cares of this life just slip away and let there be no more pain. Just a full on comfortably numb emptiness. A null.

I looked around for some reason. Couldn't tell you why to this day. Perhaps in seeing the details of the garage I hoped to find some sort of meaning. Which probably I shouldn't have done. It only made the sadness and loss feel stronger looking around in there.

Strange places, garages; usually not as heavily used as say the kitchen or the living room (and definitely not as popular as the bathroom), but they contain so much stuff that we take for granted yet need for just about every day. My Dad was far from what you'd call the handyman type, but he had his tools in there, stacked and sorted neatly. The washer and dryer were in here, as well as the water heater and the furnace's air handler and fuel tank. Mom had her bins for recycling and extra pantry space here, as well as boxes upon boxes of Christmas ornaments and the fake tree (pre-lighted, of course, very practical about the impractical stuff, my Mom) safely stored away. My bike was in here, as well as Mom's ancient 10-speed, which she used to tell me she was going to definitely get back on and ride again, just as soon as she could find the time. There was also the snow blower that we'd bought and used all of once because it broke and none of us were technically proficient enough to fix it, and it never seemed to be enough of a priority to get it repaired while there was no snow, and it was usually too late to get it fixed after snow flies.

Just stuff, you know. Just things that you don't think about until you need. Like things cast to the side and left there in the static knowledge that they'd be there when you finally did need them again. Things you never really miss until they're gone, stolen, lost, broken, undone.

Like a family.

It lay there on my father's makeshift work bench, the hybrid sword. Dad still had a fishing reel up there in some stage of a detangling operation. When I'd put the wrapped evil weapon up on the bench, I'd pushed the reel and some of the tools out of the way, back towards the wall. I once asked him why he didn't just junk the thing and get a new one, that it would save him all the hassle and the lost brain cells. I remember his words then, even if I didn't understand them completely.

"Not every knotty problem should be solved the way Alexander solved Gordian's Knot. You can't always hack through something to get at the root problem without sacrificing the layers of important stuff along the way. Sometimes it's better to lose the brain cells than waste a good fishing reel, son."

I reached out and boldly flipped open the tarp I'd wrapped the blade in. I didn't touch it in doing so, but I didn't care if in that time I did actually get a small taste of Cold Iron's black kiss. I was about to get a lot more than that when I plunged it into my chest.

Looking at it now, in the sort of glittering, dusty sunbeam that fell in through side window, I could make out details. It wasn't what you'd call ornate. Fully functional as a weapon, practical for its necessities and lethalities to be certain, but just a cold merging of metals, one to a side, with a grip of some kind of bone or plastic, wrapped in leather. My centuries of war training knew how it would be difficult to use at first, but that in the hands of someone with any tiny bit of skill, it could be simply, elegantly deadly.

Just what I needed.

It's weird that I could hear Kenny still pleading with me, right up until the answering machine clicked off. I never realized how far sound traveled in the house when no one was there. I guess people really do absorb sound.

I reached out to grasp the handle on the hybrid, my fingers looking pitifully small against the handle. This was built for a full grown person, not a half grown Satyr youth. Still, a sharp edge is a sharp edge. The black kiss of half the blade would just hasten the chill embrace of oblivion. No time like the present. I lifted the blade, feeling its cool, shadowy hunger seducing me towards my final act, blanking all other thoughts from my mind.

"Whoa! Hold up, there kiddo!" a voice said and arms grasped me from behind, enfolding me in a constraining embrace. My elbows were pinned to my sides by the strong, lean arms that wrapped me, preventing me from lifting more than the handle off the workbench. "You don't need that thing, little lord," a voice rasped near me, struggling to keep me held fast. "That is only death and death can't have you yet!"

As I struggled to free myself, I was lifted, still held tight, and taken back from the blade. I tried to drag it with me, but only managed to get it to slip out of my grasp as the full weight of the weapon sank earthward, impaling itself in the garage floor like Arthur's sword in the stone.

"Milord!" came a gasping cry to my left, unmistakably Capricus' voice. Which meant that it had to be Pyrious behind me, holding me from my destiny. I wiggled, swung my legs, anything to get free and get just the edge of my wrist against that happy blade of Cold Iron. A small cut from that would be enough to drain away all that was in me, all that traitor blood and traitor Glamour that had betrayed my parents to their deaths. The punishment was suitable to the crime after all. It was my fault, I deserved to Un-be.

I reached out and tried to slip free of Keith's grasp, but he was wily and wise and knew more tricks at wrestling than I did, I guess. He held me fast and Dan dropped the tarp over the hybrid. Almost at once, colors returned to my vision with renewed sharpness, as if I hadn't known that they had departed my eyes for paler shades and filtered, floating grays.

"Lemme go!" I screamed. I tried to claw back and dig into Keith's leg to get him to drop me, but his denim was tougher than my fingernails. Well, that and I had a bad habit of biting my nails (still do).

"Not without one of us being unconscious or at least more reasonable," Keith said, grunting to keep his grip on me. I continued to struggle, mostly trying to kick backwards and head butt Keith's face into a flat bloody pulp, but that wasn't coming off. Dan grabbed my legs and tried to keep me from doing any damage with my feet, keeping a respectful distance as he did so, knowing that my hooves pack a mean wallop (and a treacherously accurate aim whereas gonads are concerned. Hey, I'm small and he's huge; kicking him in the nads is the only equalizer I had).

"Lemme GO!" I screamed again, my voice going up into that high-pitched, girl-in-a-horror-film level. But they were having none of it. They managed to get me on the ground and hold me there, all the time talking over my head like I wasn't there.

"Is this bedlam?" Keith asked, a seriously worried tone entering his voice as he said that. I hadn't known him long but already I could see that he was a compassionate soul. If only he'd just let me kill myself and make everything all better.

"I think not," Dan replied, sounding more like Capricus. "Though the diff'rence 'ere might a passin' thing be," he said, gravely, keeping my knees mostly quiet and stilled. Which I tried to use to my advantage and leverage against Keith, but that was going nowhere either. They had strength and weight that I couldn't match. At least not directly.

So I called on the Dragon's Ire. But it felt different. The power surged through me, blanketing me in the strength and raw Glamour that it always does when I invoke my inner fae warrior. I felt suddenly strong enough to take on ten Trolls in open warefare. But there was a strangeness to my body as well. It's hard to describe, but imagine if you suddenly grew almost half a meter in a few seconds (without the nasty growing pains that brings to mind) and had all the added muscle and bone of an Olympic body builder flowing through you, and the speed of a sprinter and a martial arts master all rolled into one. The pale flame that kicked out from me was tinged blue, as normal, but was shot through with bursts of gray and yellow and violet and green.

"Hold him fast!" Dan called out. I closed my eyes and renewed my struggles to get free, concentrating my new strength on pushing these older fools off. A third pair of hands closed on my chest, shoving me down. I opened my eyes and my fae sight had taken over. Caspian, Capricus and Pyrious now held me down, with Caspian practically leaning on my chest with both hands and all of his weight. "He was abou' ta Undo hisself with yon bastard steel."

"Knock his brains about!" Caspian said, probably to Pyrious, who had my shoulders and head closest to himself. I struggled like a wild beast, but even then I could catch a glimpse of Pyrious, uncertain if he should or even could cold cock me with a shot to the head while I was under the Dragon's Ire.

And that moment of indecision was all the opening I needed. I surged up, through his grasping hands and managed to head butt Caspian hard enough to fling him into Capricus and send both adult kithain sprawling in a pile of arms and legs. I gathered my hooves beneath me and was about to turn back towards where the hybrid lay when Pyrious tackled me, bringing me to my knees, but closer to my goal. I clubbed him in the face with my forearm, grabbed both of his ears and then rammed my forehead, with my horns, into his nose. Pyrious sank to the ground like he'd been struck by a meteor. My rage and fury had me almost in a battle frenzy worthy of Viking raiders, centuries ago. I whirled around, my gaze low, looking to see if Caspian and Capricus were threats to my goal. They were still trying to separate and regain their feet. All of this took just a few seconds, so I knew that this would be my best chance to end it all. I leapt back to my hooves and took a step towards the tarp and the treasure, the evil, the pain and pleasure, the sweet oblivion waiting underneath.

Only it wasn't under the tarp anymore. Nor was it imbedded in the garage floor. The handle was held out before me, at chest level, slightly elevated from where the business end rested...

Gripped tightly, with a small trail of blood oozing out, in Kenny's hand.

I stopped. Totally stopped. I dare say that for a second, the blood in me moved backwards a moment instead of just coming to a screeching, crashing, surging, liquidy halt. The part of me that was in Pan's mad grasp, reveling in the passion and emotion of my self loathing and suicidal mood, just went "HUH!" when I saw that. The more analytical part of my mind, the reasoning and thinking (yeah, right!) part saw that Kenny had his slender, strong fingers wrapped around the silver side of the hybrid's nasty re-curved blade, about the outer third or so. I also realized that he had it pointing more or less where a good push from my end would drive it into his heart.

"Go on," he said, calmly. A tear ran out of his left eye, chasing over his pointed chin. His features were barely composed, saddened like I'd never seen from him in this lifetime. "Take it."

"Kay... " I said, watching as a tear and a drop of Kenny's blood both left him at the same time, racing one another for the garage floor.

"No. Take it. If killing yourself, taking the coward's way out, is what you really want to do," he said, his control starting to break slightly. "Then take it!" he hissed. "I wont stop you."

The Dragon's Ire left me, and I felt myself shift back to my mortal seeming. My body felt heavy, and thick, even though I know I'm not. I could feel my heart banging around in my chest, wildly, settling down even as my breath caught short in my lungs from my exertions before.

"Just know this," he said, speaking softly but in a clear tone. "As soon as your hand touches that handle, I'm jumping on the blade. You die, I die. You get Undone, I get Undone. We made a promise, Bu. If you want to kill yourself so badly, go ahead and do it. Just know you're killing me too."

The autopilot was obviously still going on the "time to die" program instead of the "shocked confusion" program, because the damned thing made me reach up with my right arm, about half way to the handle. And stupid me stared at it, just watched my hand go up and reach towards this thing that had already hurt my Kenny's hand. I saw him grip the silver edge tighter, could almost hear the sound of it slicing a bit deeper into his skin.

"But Kay," I said, not really sure where all this sudden logic was coming from. My emotions had all gone train wreck on each other inside my head and heart again. I wasn't sure where I was going with it when I said it, but I was apparently dumb enough, in that moment (Hey, I heard that, you!) to blurt out some of the tangled not-so-thought-out phrases that crossed my warped little mind. "But doesn't it make more sense, more rightness to just kill myself now? Just end it, end everything when it's still good? While we're both still happy?"

As soon as I said it, Kenny's shoulders dropped and he laughed in that resigned, one step away from crying sorta way.

And then he hauled off and backhanded me hard enough to knock me on my ass.

"Do I look fucking happy to you?" Kenny shouted back. He slung the hybrid across the floor, the blade smeared with a trickle of his red lifeblood. I looked up from the ground, stunned, again, by Kenny's presence and his anger and his sadness.

My eyes cleared. My ears, once the ringing stopped, could only hear the baited breath of everyone in the room. I felt myself crying, as if I'd never cried before, but this time it was because as I looked up, I saw Kenny crying. It shook loose that last bit of something dark inside me. I just couldn't stand to see Kenny crying, not knowing that I was the reason for his pain. It was my fault. My fault.

And then it clicked, but before I could say anything, he spoke, and I felt compelled to listen. Nothing seemed more important than actually listening to him in that moment. Nothing mattered more, before or since, than letting Kenny say what he had to say.

"I've waited whole lifetimes to be with you. I've given up more blood, sweat and tears to be by your side than an army of poets or a whole nation of singers. I've fought back from death itself to remain by your side, lost more friends and family, more personal opportunities and given up more private goals just to be with you again, Robyn. And, yes, I grieve with you for your parents, both long ago in Cerulean and here now. They were fantastic people. They loved you and they always treated me like family and I love them both. Everyone here has suffered and lost people and had to deal with adversity. All of us.

"And for you to be so selfish and cowardly as to think that taking your own life just makes things better for everyone else... that's a lie you tell yourself. If you die, you hurt my Pop, you hurt Dan and Keith and Joey and Cody 'n Nick and Juan 'n Bethy, you hurt our Jedi class partners, you hurt our school, you hurt the Countess and Queen Mab and most importantly, you hurt your Mom and Dad."

He paused, holding up his fist. He squeezed it tighter for a second and then opened his hand, so more of his blood could run down along his fingers, sliding in that weird way some liquids have of going around the bottom of some things instead of just dropping to the ground before, in fact, dropping to the ground.

"So you just think about it, before you do something stupid and kill you and me, and mortally wound all of them," he gestured around to the rest of our fellow changelings gathered here, "just you remember that you and I have oaths to keep to each other, and to the Dreaming, and to them." And then he locked his eyes with mine. That feeling of being at the top of the waterfalls again came to me. Staring into those beautiful gray eyes, locked into their power and depth and brilliance, even with the darker emotions on him, was just totally debilitating to me. I lost all sense of my own will. "And if you kill you, you might as well just kill me, too, Robby. Because I wont be without you. Not now, not ever again."

For a moment, on freakin' autopilot again, I looked over to where the hybrid sword had landed and skidded to a stop. The orange peel armor slithered away from me, as if alive and slinking into the safety of shadows rather than just the dark shadows of my own rage and grief twisted mind. I felt my heart give a little off tempo beat, followed by a tear of my own soaking through my shirt. Then I looked back at Kenny, and I felt shame rise in me. Shame at what I had thought of as a good thing only to realize that it wasn't.

Not only the shame, though. Pride, understanding, love and respect, all for my Kenny. He brought me back. He hadn't brought me all the way back, mind you, but like any true Eshu pathfinder, he led me to the path and then showed me what lay down the road I was on and what lay on the road he knew. And then he let me make the choice. He trusted me that much, with his immortal soul, to trust me to come back to him, with sufficient enthusiastic prodding (very enthusiastic, Kay can really smack hard when he has to!).

"Beloved," I said, swallowing hard. Stupid pride isn't easy to swallow. Neither is stubborn selfishness nor self-righteous self-pity and just plain arrogant ego-centric idiocy. The road back isn't a simple straight path, not with the convoluted logic that senseless actions and wallowing in the depression of hard times brings.

Nor is it easy to admit that you've neglected things to the point that it makes you sick. And yes, that's what I'd done, and nearly inflicted the pain of it on all those I love, both living and dead. How freakin' selfish is that?

"Yeah, Bu?" he said back, his spine straight, but his voice softening.

"I'm lost, Kay. Show me the way back."

"Are you asking me, or commanding me?" he said, trying to sniff back the tears.

"Neither," I replied, coming to one knee and reaching out to him. "I'm begging you. Please show me the way back, Kay Neth, my Kenny. I'm lost and afraid and hurting. And I need you to guide me back to myself."

"About time you asked," he said, smiling slightly through the tears. He walked over to me and I clung to him like a man cast overboard clings to a nearby buoy in the sea. "Don't ever do this again," he whispered.

"Yes, milord," I whispered back.

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