NEXUS DREAMS

I guess this is really for Syvia, who wanted to know how Lupa and Vladimir first met, but I guess it's for anyone who ever wanted to know a bit more about my two favourite characters - I hope you all like it. Please review if you read, or feel free to email me.

Arkady Lynxen was dead.

The rain fell upon his grave in sheets. It was mid-summer, but that could mean monsoon season in the Nexus, and the warm air was thick with water.

The wolf-girl knelt on the heap of black earth with the water plastering her pale silver fur to her thin, rangy body. She was wearing her best clothes, the big T-shirt with only one hole in it, and the only skirt she owned, which her mother (also, sadly, long-ago departed in another world to this) had given her.

She dug her clawed hands into the earth, as if through touching it she could touch him one more time. Why had she ever left her birthplace? Why had she wanted to leave, to come here where there was rain and death and no more laughter?

The answer, of course, was simple. There had been nothing left for her there, either. Her friends, her family, all those little things that bring magic to a tired world…they had all gone, left those shores in death or simply gone away to rest. At least here, in the Nexus…here she had found Arkady.

Lupa d'Acosta threw back her head and howled.

Lone wolves are never happy, Lupa, her mother had said. Find your pack. Find your family.

And then Arkady's voice, rippling with affection, Lupa, my love

And now she was alone again. The rain fell into one of her ears and she shook her head hard to clear the momentary deafness. She could almost see him still, the brindled plush of his heavy fur, his eyes sharp and green like new leaves in Spring, his tail whipping with interest as he stared up at the birds in the croft.
"I - I'm sorry for all the times I pulled your ear-tips…"

The words were out of her mouth without the thought that there was no-one to hear them.

"I know you were angry at the time, but the hairs, they grew back in a few weeks…"

Her tail thumped the wet ground, twice, trying to be happy at the memory, but soon grew still. After all, no amount of time was going to make those long lynx-tips ever grow again…

There were flowers on the grave. Not many. Arkady had no living family save his adopted son, Feylix, who was away with the army. Lupa, too poor to afford a hothouse bouquet, had brought corn-flowers - and they were drooping under the weight of water on their fragile heads. Lupa moved them to lean in the shadow of Lynxen's headstone, where they would be sheltered from the worst of it, and read the legend carved into the black marble: Gen. ARKADY LYNXEN - LOYALTY and INITIATIVE, and then the initials R.I.B. (Rest in Bubastis).

Lupa pressed her forehead to the stone and whispered, "When I first saw you…when I was small…I thought you were too beautiful to be real. Because you were me, you were like me, you were a man who was an animal inside…"

Warm hands closed on her shoulders as they shook with sobs: warm golden-furred fingers rubbed gently at her rigid muscles.

"Little wolf," purred a voice, "little wolf, don't be sad. The Goddess, She will take care of him now. He walks in Her pawprints now and he is safe."

Lupa didn't turn. "The Goddess never speaks to wolves like me," she murmured. The voice chuckled deeply and big claws kneaded her shoulder like bread.

"The Goddess looks after us all," he said, and when Lupa finally turned, her eyes blurred with tears, she saw a golden blur bent over her, and the rain had stopped.

"Who are you?" she asked.

The lion-man smiled, showing a broken fang tooth in his wide red mouth, and reached up to tie his wayward tawny mane back into a ponytail.

"I am Mr Mikhail," he said. "I live across the valley. Arkady was my son's teacher at school, many years ago now."

"Lupa d'Acosta," said Lupa, sadly, thinking of all the times she had followed Arkady to the school and helped him feed the horses. The lion-man nodded.

"Do you have anywhere to live?" he asked. Lupa thought of the house she had shared with Arkady, thought of how the house still smelt of him, how his fur still lay in patches on the sofa, how his claw-marks were still on the wall where he'd slipped painting the ceiling, and said, "No. Not really."

Mr Mikhail gave that wide, broken smile again and said, "Then you can come and live with me. Two of my sons are away on business, and the other is a most disagreeable fellow, but I'm sure you can handle him."

Lupa stood, squinting in the new sunshine. Mr Mikhail was huge, even for one of his breed, and his paw engulfed hers as he led her away from the cemetary.

"You're too kind, Mr Mikhail," she said, trying not to look back over her shoulder at Arkady Lynxen's grave as it receded over the brow of the little hill. The lion-man laughed.

"You can call me Lionheart," he said. "My parents were traditional in their naming methods, as I see, were yours…"