by London Lampy
"Exit?" Jack says, blinking in confusion at me as he wakes up.
"Yes," I reply, taking my hand off his shoulder from where I'd shaken it to wake him.
"Wha...?" comes a mutter from the other side of the bed where Topher is stirring.
I click the bedside light on so they can see me properly. It's not that bright but for a few seconds it makes my eyes hurt before they adjust.
"You are home!" Topher exclaims hoarsely, emerging out from under the covers and sitting up.
"Yes," I reply, "I am." I look from one of them to the other, wondering if either of them is going to offer an explanation for why they are in bed together.
"What happened to you, you look terrible?" Topher asks instead, while Jack also sits up. He has an expression on his face that looks like he's thinking about something.
"I got set up. I was nearly forced to plant a bomb but I managed to escape, although I think I might have accidentally killed a man in the process. I ran down a steep hill through a load of thorn bushes," I indicate my torn clothes and scratched arms as I say this. "Then I found a railway station and hopped on the back of a Parnell bound train and came home."
"You might have accidentally killed a man?" Jack questions. "How?"
"He followed me down the hill, I heard him scream and fall behind me and...why the fuck are you two naked in bed together? Was I knocked unconscious and am hallucinating or something?"
"You find it that unlikely?" Topher asks.
"I...yes of course I bloody do! The one and only time the two of you met before you had a fight."
"We made up," Topher shrugs.
"It looks like you did a lot more than that."
"Are you angry?" Jack asks with a frown.
"I...I have no idea what I am right now." I think too much has happened in the last few hours for my mind to take anything else in. "All I really want to do is have a shower and then sleep."
I can hear the two of them talking through the bathroom door as I peel my clothes off and examine the cuts on my arms. They're speaking too quietly for me to be able to make out what they're saying, but the tone sounds worried, and I have no doubt that they're talking about me.
The shower stings but I stand under it for a long time letting the water roll over my body, trying to wash away what happened with Clearwater. I was a total fucking idiot to have trusted them and in the morning I'm going to have to go into work and confess to Vin what I did, by the end of tomorrow I may no longer have a job. I pat myself dry, my headlong run down the hill has left me not only with cuts on my arms but also an array of bruises, including a spectacular one on my tail. I put some iodine onto the worst of the cuts, wincing with every dab and adding orange patches to the purple-black bruises that are already "decorating" my body, then I wrap a towel around my middle and come back out. Topher and Jack are still in the bed and appear to be having an animated conversation with one another, they stop as soon as they realise that I'm in the room and look guilty, a sure sign that they were talking about me.
"You do not look good," Topher states, eyeing me up and down.
"Yeah, you're kind of banged up," Jack agrees.
"I know." I stand and stare at them, hoping one of them will get the hint, neither of them does. "Could one of you get out of the bed, or at least move over so I can get in? I really need some sleep."
Jack looks like he's about to get out, then he glances at Topher, who hasn't moved, pushes his shoulder to make him shift to the edge of the bed then does the same himself on his side, leaving a gap between them for me. It'll do so I drop the towel on the floor, jump over Topher and burrow down under the covers with one of them pressed into either side of me. The last thing I remember before I fall asleep is the sensation of two different pairs of arms holding me tightly.
When I wake up I find I have a lot more space and there seems to now only be one person in bed with me. I poke that person with the tip of my tail to find out who it is, the body is small and smooth skinned so it has to be Topher.
"Morning monkey," the body says, confirming my verdict.
"Morning," I reply, opening my eyes. The curtains are open and the room is filled with daylight, a quick look at the alarm clock tells me it's gone nine, and therefore Topher should be at work.
"You should be at work," I say, sitting up and yawning.
He's sitting up reading a book. "Jack made you some tea," he points at the table beside me, where indeed there is a mug of tea. "But it is probably cold by now."
I try it, it is cold but I'm thirsty so I drink it anyway. I notice that there's another mug beside Topher, Jack must have made him tea too.
"Where is he?" I ask, looking around the flat but seeing no sign of him.
"Gone out to buy food to make breakfast with."
That makes sense, I doubt there's much in the kitchen and Jack will be hungry by now. "So...you and Jack?" I say, still not quite able to get my head around this strange new development, or how I feel about it.
"Yes," Topher closes his book and frowns at me. "Are you not happy?"
"Why should I be happy?" I ask after swallowing another mouthful of cold tea. "I'm mostly confused."
"Because now you do not have to keep me and Jack apart all the time, or worry that he is going to leave you because of me." He's looking very pleased with himself.
I think about what he's just said, working it through in my mind. "Are you trying to tell me you had sex with Jack to make him like you?" The implications of this are big.
"We had dinner, I think by dessert he had already decided that he did not hate me any more, fucking just sealed the deal."
"Did you invite him to Parnell?" I quiz Topher, still trying to puzzle things out.
"No, he just turned up. Apparently he sent a telegram to you at your office to tell you he was coming but you were not there to receive it. However I have been thinking about doing this for some time, it seemed the best to deal with the the problem, last night just gave me the perfect opportunity."
"Did he make the first move?"
"No," he shakes his head. "I was trying to get him to, I got him a bit drunk over dinner, and he clearly wanted me but I think he was being...honourable," Topher shrugs. "In the end I had to resort to taking all my clothes off, getting into bed with him and sticking my hand down his underwear."
"Yeah, that would do it." I honestly don't know whether to laugh or...well maybe not cry, but. "All that stuff you said to me after I accused you of sleeping with Vin, about how I was the only person you'd ever been with just because it was what you wanted."
"What about it?"
"You did it with Jack for me, not because it was what you wanted." I feel bad, but it never occurred to me that he'd do anything like this.
"So?" he shrugs again. "I like Jack, it was not exactly a chore, I would happily do it again."
"What? Your problem is solved, you can stop looking miserable every time you say his name now."
"Stop worrying monkey, I enjoyed it. No offence but it does not feel like that when we do it, he is very large."
"Yes, I know, but..."
"If I had not enjoyed it I would have not done it three times with him."
"You did it three times?"
"Yeah," he grins.
"Are you sore?"
"A little," he admits.
"Thank you," I say, kissing him on the cheek. "I think."
The door opens and Jack lets himself back into the flat carrying two bags filled with groceries, then kicks the door shut behind him.
"You're awake," he says when he sees me.
"Are you alright?" He looks something between embarrassed and concerned.
I'm not quite sure how to answer this because I'm not quite sure what he's asking. "Kind of." I hedge my bets.
"Are you hungry?"
"I'll make us some breakfast," he mutters, and then disappears into the kitchen.
"He thinks you are cross with him," Topher says once he's gone.
"Hmm...I don't have any right to be, do I?"
"No," Topher shakes his head. "You definitely do not. Are you?"
"No...but it sounds like he didn't seem to be that bothered that I might be upset at him having sex with you last night."
"I am fucking sexy, and he was a bit drunk."
"How did you get him drunk?" I ask. "He can drink gallons and it doesn't affect him."
"I just kept refilling his glass and he kept emptying it. He was not falling down puking up drunk like you get after half a shandy, he was just a bit more suggestible."
"Did he even say anything about, I don't know, how maybe you shouldn't be doing it?"
"Yes, but we decided that it was not cheating, and that we would tell you."
That was my point about how me being with Topher was not cheating on Jack because I was going to tell him. If I get even the slightest bit annoyed with Jack it would be horribly hypocritical. I suddenly notice a less than appetising smell coming from the kitchen, it smells like something burning and Topher sniffs the air, clearly smelling it too.
"Does he actually know how to cook?" he questions.
"Yes, he's pretty good at it too," I say, seeing a haze of blue smoke starting to form in the air around the partially open door. "But I think I'm going to go and see what's going on." Mr Costa hasn't yet spotted that Topher scorched the kitchen wall, but I'm not sure that if we have another kitchen fire he'll remain oblivious. I slide out of bed and walk over to the kitchen with Toper following me. Pushing the door fully open I see Jack crouched in front of the oven, he's got the door open and is peering inside, this seems to be the source of the smoke.
"Turn it off!" Topher shouts from behind me. "You are burning my books!"
Jack turns to look at us, an expression of complete bafflement on his face. "Why the fuck are there books in you oven?" he asks, standing up and spinning the dial to turn it off.
"There are books in the oven?" I look at Topher.
"Why not? We never light it."
"I just did," Jack points out, wrapping his hand in a tea towel, bending down and pulling out a rather singed tome that still has wisps of smoke coming off it.
"Why?" Topher asks.
"Because I was going to use it to warm the plates up...why does it matter why? You shouldn't keep flammable crap in your oven."
"It is not "flammable crap"" Topher steps into the kitchen and looks at the book that Jack is holding. "That is a book of poetry by a very famous Surosian poet."
"It was nearly a heap of ash," Jack objects.
I realise that Topher is in serious danger of undoing all the good "work" he did with Jack last night. Jack is right, keeping books in the oven is really stupid, but I can't take sides here.
"It doesn't matter, come on." I take Topher's hand to try to pull him out of the kitchen. "Let's leave Jack to it."
"Please," Jack agrees. "And before breakfast would you two mind putting some clothes on?"
"Why?" Topher asks with a grin. "Are we distracting you?"
After a breakfast of eggs and mushrooms and toast for me, and the same with bacon for Jack and Topher they both demand to know exactly what has been happening to me over the last few days. Jack is sitting at one end of the sofa, I'm sitting down at the other end and Topher, not wanting to be banished to the chair or squashed between us has chosen to sit on my lap.
"Why the hell did you go off with them in the first place?" Jack asks when I explain about being followed during the thunderstorm.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," I shrug, or rather would if Topher didn't have an arm around my shoulders. "Ever since whoever it was tried to shoot Sampson..."
"And did shoot me," Topher interjects.
"And did shoot you, all we've been doing at work is trying to find out who, it's boring. I thought if I could find out whether Clearwater had anything to do with it I might be able to get back to my usual duties."
"So, you went off with a pair of strangers because you were bored?" Jack questions.
"Yeah, kind of."
"You are an idiot," Topher adds. "Something really, really bad could have happened to you."
"He's right," Jack agrees. "It was a massively stupid thing to do."
"I know!" I retort. "I know now anyway. Can I carry on or do the pair of you want to insult me some more?"
When I get to the part about Knox being Vin's half brother they both interrupt me at once.
"Did you know that?" Topher asks, while Jack just utters, "Fucking hell."
"No, I didn't," I tell Topher. "I don't think anyone knows except Vin...and now us I suppose. I was thinking about it on the way back home, it explains a lot really. I've always wondered why Vin works for Sampson, it's not like the job pays that much or is well regarded or anything, with Toni's connections he could have a much better job if he wanted."
"But working for Sampson gives him the best chance to hunt down his half brother doesn't it?" Jack puts in.
"Yeah," I agree. "I know that he hates the way his father treated his mother...and I guess Knox and Vixen, or whatever her real name is, are all kind of part of that."
"Wait," Topher says. "You mean he has a grudge against these two because his father cheated on his mother with this Vixen woman and had a son with her?"
"I think so," I reply.
"But he himself does nothing but cheat on his wife with everyone stupid enough to fall for his charms."
"Thanks," I mutter. "But basically, yes. I know it doesn't seem logical...but knowing Vin it also kind of makes sense."
"Just proves what a total fucking shit he is," Jack growls.
"I agree," Topher nods enthusiastically, his hair ending up in my mouth.
I feel very much like I want to defend Vin, he just isn't as bad as they think he is, but I decide not to. I can't see it would go down that well with either of them. I carry on with the story, feeling Topher's hand grip my shoulder when I get to the part about the bomb and my escape from the power station, even Jack looks concerned.
"I wish I'd gone back to check on that policeman," I say when I get to the end.
"Someone would have soon found him," Jack attempts to reassure me. "He probably just twisted his ankle or something."
"I don't think so," I sigh. "You weren't there, it sounded really bad, I have a horrible feeling that he broke his neck, or his back. Shit, I might be a murderer...he might be dead and I would have his blood on my hands..." I stop, realising what I've just said. Jack is frowning at me. "Sorry," I say to him. "I didn't mean like..." I tail off.
"What?" Topher asks puzzled.
"...I didn't mean like how Jack's a soldier and he might have to kill someone as part of his job." That's not what I meant at all, Jack knows exactly what I meant. I suppose one day we'll need to tell Topher about how and why Jack killed Father Frederick, but now is not the time.
"You need to go into work and tell them what happened," Jack says before Topher can ask any more questions.
"I know," I sigh. "I'll go soon."
"What do you think they are going to say?" Topher leans back against me.
"I think they're going to fire me, or at the very least suspend me without pay," I reply, and it's a worrying sign that neither of them disagrees.
Topher has taken himself off to sit at the kitchen table with a pot of glue and some brown paper that he borrowed off the Costas in an attempt to repair the damage done to his scorched books, leaving Jack and me alone for the first time since I returned home.
"How come you're here? I mean I wasn't expecting you for another couple of weeks," I ask.
"I got a letter from Captain Samuels, do you remember him?" I nod to indicate that I do. "He wants me to go back to the Northern Continent to be his sergeant again. It's not an order, I can say no if I want, I needed to talk to you about my decision."
"Oh," I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach. "You want to go don't you?"
I desperately want to tell him not to leave, but I have no right to. "I'll miss you," I say sadly.
"No you won't."
"How can you possibly say that?"
"Because I've decided not to go, having now spent some time with..." he looks at the kitchen, meaning Topher. "I don't feel the same as I did. I'm not angry with him any more, or with you. I can see that the two of you kind of fit together, and I like him."
"You did more than like him last night," I point out.
"Sorry," he apologises. "I really don't have any excuse for that, but it won't happen again."
"What do you mean?" he looks puzzled.
"I mean why not? He likes you and you like him."
"The idea doesn't bother you?" As he says this his eyebrows climb toward what would be his hairline if he had hair.
"No, not now I've thought it over, in fact it's probably the best way for you and me to stay together." Topher's logic is sometimes very strange. I don't know how it occurred to him that the way to sort our mess out was for him and Jack to get it on, but he seems to be right.
"But...how would that work?" I can see him thinking. "Would we need some kind of rota system?"
I try really hard not to laugh, it doesn't work. "Jack...no," I giggle. "What I actually mean is...well...you and me and him, maybe not all the time, but..."
"I see," Jack's eyes go very round as he gets my meaning. "Yeah, that could work." He runs a hand over his scalp, a smile starting to tug at the corners of his mouth. I can only assume that he's now creating some mental images to go with my suggestion, I know I am. A knock on the internal door that leads up from the shop below sends those images scurrying.
"Come in Effie, it's open," I call out, knowing it's her because she's the only person who ever uses that door. I have a pretty good idea why she's up here now.
"Hi Exit," she greets me as she lets herself in. "Hi Jack." When she says this her cheeks redden slightly.
"Hello Effie, it's nice to see you again," he replies, and her blush deepens as she walks across the room.
"Topher told me you were visiting." She sits herself down in the chair opposite us. "So I thought I'd come up and say hello. By the way, is everything alright? Topher said some of his books got burnt, did you have a fire?" She looks around the room as if she expects to see evidence of burning.
"No, they were in the oven, Jack didn't know and lit it, that's all." She looks a bit puzzled at this but doesn't ask.
"Are you staying for long this time?" she quizzes Jack.
"No, I have to go back tomorrow."
"Are you going to be coming back soon after?"
"As soon as I can," Jack looks at me, I melt a bit.
"That's good," she grins, and I can't help agree with her. It's very, very good indeed.
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