"Are you planning to sit up there and mope all week?" Felix demanded, staring up into the leafless ash tree. Blaise lay on one of the lower branches with his arm thrown carelessly over his eyes, one leg dangling down. He did not answer. "I know you aren't asleep, Blaise, you never sleep like that." Felix sighed heavily. "Look, Thea's worried sick about you. After the mess you left in the park, the demon-hunters are sure to be observing her again."
Blaise peeked out from under his arm, gazing down at him with an emptiness that scared Felix. "The snow should have covered up most of it. Besides, it's not like they had a body to dig up."
Felix gritted his teeth and rolled up the sleeves of his hoodie. "Okay, fine, be that way. I'll just push you down and drag you over to Thea myself." His arm and ankle were still bandaged tightly to support the still-healing bones, but the breaks had all been clean. Thanks to some basic healing sorcery he had picked up while Blaise had been missing for two years, his ribs were already almost completely healed, and his kneecaps barely bothered him at all. He actually enjoyed showing off in front of Blaise, knowing the older Kitsune had a grasp on the air currents and his appearance, and that was about it.
Extending his claws, he dug them into the bark of the tree and started to climb. Blaise did not move, and even let him give him a hearty shove off the branch. He landed lightly on his feet and shoved his hands into his pockets, staring at the ground. Felix jumped down after him. "Come on, you're depressing me."
Blaise shook his hand off his arm and scowled at him. "I'm not going."
"Well, then, go back to Learus. I get that you feel bad about Johji, but it was either you or him, and it sounded like he was obsessed with this myth about the human man. Besides, Diego's the new pack leader now, so you've done everyone a favour if you think about it."
"I can't go back there," he muttered. "Whether the pack's better off being led by Diego or not, I'm still a murderer. They'll exile me for sure."
Felix gave him an exasperated look. "That's what you're worried about? Blaise, you spend most of your time in the Earth dimension anyway."
"That's as maybe, but I'll face either that or execution. I'd rather not risk it and just stay here," Blaise mumbled, taking his tail in his hands and worrying at the fur. He kept messing with it ever since Johji touched it, like he was afraid it was contaminated or something.
"Then go see Thea. After everything she's been through, she deserves to know you're okay, at least."
Blaise shrugged moodily and kept his attention on his tail.
Frustrated, Felix swiped it out of his grasp. Blaise yipped in protest, but Felix interrupted. "Thea told me yesterday that South himself approached her." He paused to let that sink in, and somewhat enjoyed the flicker of panic that crossed Blaise's expression. "Don't worry, he didn't hurt her. Apparently she explained that we're just here to learn from humans, and he said he'd ignore her involvement with us as long as we didn't kill anymore demon-hunters. In exchange, you and I have been granted some kind of immunity. But that's only from South's hunters, there's nothing he can do about anyone else's guild."
"That doesn't make any sense," Blaise commented with narrowed eyes. "Demon-hunters kill us for a living. They want to make sure we keep out of the Earth dimension, whether we're learning or killing."
Felix shrugged. "It's just what Thea told me."
"Either way, stay on your guard. I don't trust South. As long as you and I keep a fair distance from Thea, they'll leave her alone anyway."
"For the love of- Blaise, get a grip!" Blaise was startled by Felix's sudden raised voice and he took a surprised step away. "What you did was difficult, but it was necessary, and that girl loves you! She's making herself ill with worry and all you're doing is moping like an adolescent. Either go and see her and give her the time she deserves from you, or you get your tail back to Learus because I'm fed up of looking at your miserable face."
Blaise frowned. "It's a beautiful face, I'll have you know."
"Whatever," Felix shot back over his shoulder as he turned away, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "I have to get to work. You'd better not still be here when I get back."
He stopped when Blaise called his name. He raised his eyebrows questioningly at him, trying not to be perturbed by his oddly serious expression. "What?"
Blaise smiled, a small, tight gesture that was not entirely genuine. "You did well protecting Thea. Thank you."
If a breeze had gusted past at that moment, it might have blown Felix over. "You're thanking me? Good grief, I never thought I'd see the day. Blaise the wild fox thanking a mere pup like me."
"Yeah, yeah, don't get used to it," Blaise grumbled, rolling his eyes.
Although the incident at the park remained vividly clear in her mind, Thea was more preoccupied with worrying about Blaise. A week had passed already and she had not seen him once. According to Felix, who dropped by her apartment that morning, the battle had really shaken him up. She could hardly blame him; the whole ordeal had taken its toll on her as well, and he had been the one to strike down a supposed ally. That said, she still wished she could talk to him about it. She was not sure what she could do to help ease his burden, but not being able to do anything was worse.
By some stroke of luck, the manager of a nearby café she had given her CV to called her up and asked for an interview. Her trial day went well, and she was hired on the spot. The manager, a whirlwind of a woman in her thirties named Kate, lost an employee rather suddenly and was in desperate need of a waitress and barista. Thea had all the experience from working in a bar, and the café was actually closer to her apartment. Between a new part-time job and her university lectures, she did not have too much time to fret.
"Here you are, sirs: one coffee with milk and cream, one peppermint tea. Please enjoy," she said with a bright, beaming smile that in no way reflected her downcast emotions. The two men smiled back at her and nodded their thanks.
In some ways, she preferred working in a café to the bar; she no longer worked late into the night, and she did not have to worry about underage drinkers. The atmosphere was quieter and overall pleasanter, but she missed her co-workers. George had gone home to work with his dad, Paul was now working in a supermarket, and Sammy was living off her parents for the time being. Not that her new co-workers were not friendly; they were. But it was different.
Wiping her hands on her apron, she turned and froze. Standing just inside the door was Blaise, looking just as dejected as she felt. If his ears were showing, she knew they would be flat back against his head. He wore black jeans with boots he had not bothered to lace up, a navy t-shirt with a designer logo printed on the chest underneath an unzipped black hoodie he had probably borrowed from Felix. Still with his hand in the pocket of his hoodie, he gave a little wave and smiled despondently.
She turned to Cassie, one of the other girls working at that moment, and asked, "Do you mind if I take my break now?"
Cassie looked up and then past her towards Blaise, a small, knowing grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Sure. Take as long as you need."
Thea grabbed her coat from the break room and shrugged it on before returning to Blaise. He tilted his head to one side as he gazed down at her. The lack of a spark in his usually gleaming tawny eyes made her chest hurt, but she made an effort to smile at him. "Shall we go for a walk?"
"Okay," he replied with a nod.
It was just as cold as it had been a week ago, and though the snow had long since stopped, the blanket on the ground was yet to thaw. It crunched under their feet as they dawdled along the high street. The chilly air bit at her cheeks and she shoved her hands deep into her pockets, forgetting to bring her gloves.
They walked together in silence for a whole ten minutes before either of them spoke. Blaise seemed completely lost in his own thoughts and she was not sure what to say to him. She could not empathise with his struggle. She had watched it happen, but she could never really understand what it felt like to bring about the death of a supposed ally. She could not even imagine what it would be like to raise a blade to another human being.
"That was something I didn't expect to see," he said eventually, glancing sideways at her. At her puzzled expression, he continued, "I was almost sure I stopped you smiling for good."
Thea shook her head resolutely. "Don't you dare say anything like that," she scolded with a frown. "You did what you had to. None of us blames you for it, not even Diego. You were just protecting me…" she added in a quieter voice. Yet again, she was the cause of it all.
"Don't look like that," Blaise said, stopping at the side of the street and lifting her chin with a finger. "I don't regret it. And I'll get over it eventually anyway. It was just a shock to the system, you know?"
She nodded. "I understand. But I don't want you to think I'm not grateful either." Thea paused and licked her lips, trying to think of the best way to phrase what she wanted to say. "I don't really know anything about your laws in Learus, but I don't see how they can judge you for it. Diego said it's against scouting law to harm an innocent human, which is what Johji was trying to do, right?"
Blaise laughed once, low and without humour. "It's a worse offence to kill an ally, Thea." Left with no way to respond to that, she fell silent. "Are the hunters leaving you alone?" he asked after a moment.
"As far as I can tell," she answered, nodding.
"Felix told me what you told him about South." He chewed his lip thoughtfully for a moment. Then, with a wry grin, he added, "He also told me to get a grip and stop looking so miserable."
"Well, I'd have to second that."
He poked her cheek, snickering at her indignant expression. Some of the usual light returned to his eyes then, making her smile. "Nothing seems as bad when I'm around you," he admitted, a faint blush in his cheeks.
He looked out across the street with a sigh. Thea followed his gaze and spotted a young couple, probably in their late teens, holding hands as their arms swung between them. Both grinned broadly, like the shadows of the world would never be able to catch up to them. As she watched, he stopped and lifted his girlfriend's chin up to steal a kiss. The scene was cute, but it made her feel like crying.
"No. I can't do it."
She looked up at Blaise's sudden declaration, and he leaned forward, pressing his lips tenderly to her forehead. Blushing, she tried to look at her feet, but he would not let her. "…Can't do what?" she asked, mumbling in her embarrassment. Nobody had ever kissed her on the forehead before, except maybe her father when she was a child.
"I can't keep away from you," he confessed in a lower voice, his gaze holding hers. She turned a deeper shade of red.
"But we can't… it's forbidden for you to be romantically involved with me…"
He captured her face in both hands and grinned playfully. "It's only forbidden if we get caught, right? Besides, I don't plan to go back to Learus if I can help it."
"…Felix will know…"
His eyes burned a sultry shade of gold. "I'm willing to take the risk."
Caught up in the heat of his gaze, Thea lost the will to fight him and he claimed her lips with his in a softly sweet kiss.
That's it guys! That is the first draft completed! Thank you to everyone who stuck this out to the end, your attention is very much appreciated, and any feedback however critical is welcomed. Although this is it for now, keep an eye out for the second draft! ^.^