Stunned, both Javier and I stared at the figure of the bobcat I had presumed to be dead, siting straight up, coughing and wheezing heavily, but still very much alive and awake. I rushed over to Likax's side, placing my hand on his shoulder.
"Likax!" I cried out. "My god! Y-you're alive!"
Coughing once more, he took a deep breath and then looked up at me, a faint hint of a smile on his lips. "Of course I am," he said, his voice weak and rasp. "You didn't think I'd give up that easily, did ya, Carson?" I felt my cheeks begin to get flushed, impressed that Likax remembered my name when he had only heard it once while barely conscious.
He coughed again, his breathing still labored. I quickly ran to the kitchen, grabbed a glass and filled it up with water from the filtered pitcher in our refrigerator, then hurried back. I handed the glass over to Likax, who accepted it silently but gratefully, taking a long drink.
"B-but--" Javier sputtered, still kneeling down on the floor and in shock. "The AED! The readout! It said you didn't have a pulse!"
Turning to face Javier, Likax shrugged and took another sip. "I don't know," he said. "I blacked out for a long portion of it. I just remember gradually becoming aware of the faint sound of people sobbing, and then fully coming to and realizing what had happened."
Javier wiped away the tears that were still streaming down his eyes, moved up onto the couch next to Likax and began to feel the bobcat's throat and chest.
"Whoa, easy there, man," Likax said, grinning a bit more strongly than before. "I usually want to know a guy's name at least before I let them feel me up."
Javier pulled his hands back as his eyes narrowed, and a questioning look came to his face. Chuckling, I sat down on the couch on the other side of Likax from Javier. "Likax, this is Javier Serrano. He's my roommate, a pre-med student. He… he saved your life."
My eyes were focused on Javier, who returned my stare a bit blankly, but then shook his head. "No, no… I didn't do anything. I honestly don't know how you're still alive." He gingerly took Likax's wrist, feeling it for a second. "Your pulse seems to have somehow returned to normal, though. How do you feel?"
Likax thought for a second. "Better. Still a little woozy, but definitely better than I had been." He took another big gulp of water, emptying the glass. A little bit of it dribbled down his chin, dampening the fur of his muzzle. When he noticed this, he chuckled, looking up at me, a bit embarrassed. "I guess I still need to pay a bit more attention when I drink, though. I'll go get a towel."
He sat the glass down on the end table next to the couch and started to stand up, but Javier quickly jumped up and gently pushed down on his shoulders. "Hey, hey, don't try to get moving too quickly here." His eyes looked over the feline's body, examining for any signs of concern, I guessed. Likax appeared much healthier than he had been even when I first saw him in the forest. He sat up straight, he had stopped coughing, his breathing had returned to a normal level, and his eyes even started to glimmer a bit. His still-frazzled fur was the only visible sign that he had been in any recent distress.
"Just relax," I said to Likax. "I'll go grab you a towel from the kitchen." I picked up the empty glass. "Want some more water too?"
Likax nodded eagerly. "Yes… please," he added at the end, reaching out and touching my hand lightly for a moment, his still-sparkling eyes looking up at mine in thanks. I couldn't help but grin at his appreciative and pleasant demeanor. The politeness, the humility, and the gratitude he expressed had started to capture my heart.
Walking into the kitchen, I heard Javier tell Likax, "I'll be right back too." As I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the water pitcher again, my roommate walked to the other side of me, his face much more somber than my own. "Have you noticed something odd about Likax in the past few minutes?" His voice was hushed, almost whispering.
"What," I smiled as I filled the glass, "other than the fact that he just seemingly came back to life after dying in our arms? No, not really."
Javier glanced back over at Likax, who had picked up a book of scenic photographs from the coffee table and started to thumb through it. "I don't know how to explain it," he said, "but I could swear that he's gotten a little bit… larger, I guess, just in the past few minutes."
I scrunched up my nose in confusion, then turned back around and took another look at the bobcat. The differences weren't something I (or most other people) would've noticed or thought about, but Javier did have a keen attention to detail. "Now that you mention it," I said, turning back to my tasks and kneeling down to grab a clean dish towel from the cabinet next to the refrigerator, "he does appear to be a little bit bigger. Couldn't that just be from gaining his strength and health back, though? Like, he's able to hold his head up a bit higher because he feels better?"
Javier shook his head. "That might explain an increase of an inch, but I could swear that he's at least three or four inches taller than he was. Also, as I was just checking his vitals, I could've sworn that I felt muscles in his arms and chest that I didn't feel before. It's not a huge amount, mind you," he leaned in closer as his brow furrowed, "but enough for a doctor to sit up and take notice."
"So?" I shrugged as I put the pitcher back into the refrigerator. "That just sounds like he's recovering even better than could be expected. I don't think you should worry about it."
Javier still had the concern in his eyes but didn't respond. He followed as I turned around and headed back into the living room, handing Likax the towel and the glass of water. "Thank you very much," the bobcat said as I sat down next to him on the couch. "I can't begin to express how appreciative I am towards the two of you for saving me."
"Don't mention it," I said, leaning back in my seat. "It's what anyone would've done."
"No," he said, "I owe you my life." He placed his paw on my thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze. Through my khakis, I could feel a tiny bit of pressure from his claws. "I promise you, I'm not going to ever forget this… or you."
I turned my head slightly, peering at his face. The slight warmth flowing from his paw on my leg seemed to be radiating throughout my entire body. There was something inside this feline that I never had seen from anyone else, human or anthro. Inside, I felt a sudden urge to jump on top of Likax, to wrap my arms around him and kiss him passionately. I fought it off. It wasn't appropriate... at least not yet.
"So," Javier leaned against the wall, watching the two of us with a bit of a frown on his face, "what exactly happened to you to lead to all this? How did you end up in the woods almost dead?"
The sparkle in Likax's eyes faded, and he broke his gaze with me, looking out the window. He slumped a little, hesitating to speak, and I could feel his discomfort. My first reaction was to scowl at Javier, but I quickly realized that I, too, was itching to know the answer to his question.
"Well," Likax finally finally made eye contact with Javier, "It's a long story…"
"Doesn't matter," Javier said, sitting down on the easy chair next to my side of the couch. "Neither of us have anything planned for the rest of the day. We're all ears."
Likax took a deep breath, working up the courage to speak. "Okay," he said, "I'll tell you guys, since you saved my life. But you have to promise not to speak a word of this to anyone else."
I placed my hand on top of Likax's paw, nodding fervently. "Of course."
Javier rolled his eyes slightly. "Fine. I promise."
"All right," Likax said, sitting back up straight, "well, I guess I should begin at the beginning. This whole ordeal all started when I broke out of federal prison." My eyes widened a little, and Javier nervously shifted in his seat as he stared. "Yeah, I know. I'll explain later, okay? I promise, I wasn't in there for anything major." He looked at the two of us, before continuing. "The place was pretty experimental. It was a holding place for anthros, since they didn't want us mixing with humans. Unfortunately, it was deep enough that humans were the ones running the place. Not pleasant."
I nodded quietly. Though the anthro population had grown in recent years and become more visible, it was always quite clear that there was a good bit of sentiment against them. Although people were interested in them, most clearly weren't ready to treat them as equals.
"Long story short,” Likax continued, “there was a bit of a riot there. A group of the rowdier prisoners made a fuss, and they couldn't hold the gates very well. They had to try to catch a lot of the people. I think we were just lucky that they weren't allowed to use anything too strong at the gates. Tasers and tranquilizers, I think. The problem was when a few of us managed to get out."
"A few of you? Who else got out?" Javier was clearly a little shaken this time, nervous at the idea of having other prisoners out and loose.
"A couple of dogs, a ferret, and some bird, I think. I wasn't paying too much attention when I ran, and I can't say I really knew most of them too well." Likax shook his head as he leaned against the wall, swallowing quietly. "Anyways, I managed to get a decent distance away. I had run most of it. I mean, I'm not the best, but I had spent most of the day dashing, so I thought I was safe. Found a decent spot, and tried to get some rest."
"Something happen then?" I couldn't help but notice him tense a little. His fur was a little on end, and his tail shifted a little as he looked out the window.
"Yeah. I managed to get a full night alone, but they found me early on in the morning. By then, they had managed to pull out stronger stuff. Few people with guns, some smoke... I just ran in the opposite direction. I think they didn't have a chance to surround me, but I still got hit a few times. I was injured pretty badly, so I just tried to get out. I managed to lose them after a bit of a cliff, and... Well... I think you know the rest."
Javier stood up a little, gripping the arm of his chair a little tightly. "Not really... There's a lot of stuff that I don't know. I'm not the one that found you. I suppose Carson can fill me in on a few things. But... I've got something important to ask right now." He swallowed before looking right at him, Likax turning his head with a questioning look. "Did they do anything odd to you?"
"Odd?" Likax repeated, squirming in his seat. Javier just crossed his arms and stared at him in silence, waiting for a reply. The tension in the air felt thick and blanketing.
After a long, uncomfortable pause, I stood up, putting myself in between Javier and Likax and sticking out my hands. "All right, Javier, listen. Likax has had enough trauma for one day, and --"
The feel of a soft paw pad on top of my hand stopped me. Likax had stood up as well, his eyes soft and concerned. "No, Carson, it's okay. You both have a right to know." He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, then opened them again. "To answer your question, Javier... Yes, the people running the prison did do odd things to me-- to all of us there."
Javier nodded, as if Likax had just confirmed what he had suspected all along. "What kind of things?"
Likax sighed deeply. "Pretty much every weird thing you could imagine, and then more. Originally, it was just typical product testing, making sure hair products or food and drugs were safe before they were released to 'the public', I guess. But after my first two or three months there, a strange man in a white lab coat came in and told me that they had 'found some special markers in my genetic makeup that made me an ideal candidate,' and I got pulled for an isolated experiment."
"Isolated?" I frowned. That particular word jumped out at me, sounding so harsh, so unfair. I pictured in my mind the poor bobcat, wasting away in a dark cell all day, every day, only being pulled out for some crackpot scientists to probe him and run their tests. A shiver went down my spine as anger started to seethe in my chest.
Javier, however, seemed less empathetic for the bobcat and more curious about the nature of the experiment. "But what exactly did they do to you? What all were they testing for?"
Likax sat back down on the couch, slumping his shoulders a little. "The procedures themselves were fairly mild, as far as I could tell at the time. They simply chained me to a steel chair in a small square room, which was empty and painted white save for a full-length mirror on the wall I was facing. I would be left there for thirty or forty-five minutes at a time. They never told me what they were trying to discover. But I began to piece things together."
"What did you figure out?" I asked, sitting down next to him, brushing against his tail with my hand accidentally (or so I told myself).
"Well, I started getting suspicious when I noticed my fur, skin, and whiskers were all tingling during every session. It started out small; I thought it was just nerves or something. But it kept getting more and more intense as the months went by. Eventually, I couldn't even hear my own thoughts during these procedures, and afterwards, I would be sick and temporarily unaware of my surroundings. I knew they were doing something horrible to me, I just didn't know what. Once the riots started, as soon as my cell got unlocked, I snuck down to the white room to look for clues."
"Really?" Javier asked with some doubt evident in his voice. "Why didn't you just make a break for it while you had the chance?"
Likax shrugged, a small grin appearing on his face, the first time he had smiled since mentioning prison. "Why else? I was curious. I'm a cat; what can I say? I wanted-- no, I needed to know what they were doing to me and why. So, while all the prison guards dealt with the other prisoners at the gate, I stealthily picked the lock to the white room, picked up the steel chair… and threw it through the mirror."
"Geez, I wouldn't exactly call that stealthy," I said, completely engrossed in Likax's story. "Why destroy the mirror?"
"There was nothing else in the room. No secret doors, no hidden cameras or sensors. The only thing I could think of was to break the mirror. And I'm sure glad I did. On the other side, there was a huge machine with three large coils hooked up to a series of incredibly powerful-looking computers. The half-a-dozen screens in that room displayed an overwhelming amount of data, and I couldn't decipher it at first. But then I saw it."
"Saw what?" I was on the edge of my seat.
Likax leaned forward, his head now inches from mine. "I'm not much of a science buff, but I recognize a double helix when I see it, especially when it has my name and picture underneath."
Javier had been pacing the room, listening intently while trying to avoid looking at the bobcat. At these last words, though, he spun around. "You think they were doing something with your DNA?"
Likax shrugged. "I don't know exactly what they were doing. I don't know how or why, or even if they considered themselves successful in what they did. I don't even truly know who 'they' are. But I discovered that day something truly terrifying. There were other anthros who..."
The bobcat stopped, the words stuck in his throat. He closed his eyes and swallowed slowly. Javier and I both stared intently at him, eagerly awaiting the end of the sentence, Finally, he opened his eyes and finished his sentence. "...who weren't as lucky as me."
"What do you mean?" Javier leaned against the wall, eyebrows raised. "They weren't as lucky? What happened to them?"
Likax started speaking slower and more hesitatingly. "I wasn't the only one who they had been running those same experiments on. The computers... they were hooked up to a network with a database of hundreds of anthros who had been experimented on at the same prison during the past several years. It also showed surveillance video from over two dozen other white rooms like mine. Most were empty. But some..." The bobcat swallowed hard. I could tell the wounds were still fresh; it pained him to recount these memories. "...some had been... Their bodies..."
Likax looked down to the ground, suddenly overcome with sadness. I reached out my hand and placed it on his shoulder, attempting to comfort him. He kept his head down, leaning it against my chest, and he sighed, on the verge of tears. Every cell inside me ached for him, longing to hold this poor, young, mistreated feline in my arms, gently rubbing his fur and making him feel better. Maybe, someday...
From behind me, Javier kept pressing on, persistent as ever. "What bodies? What happened to them?"
The bobcat tilted his head up, his moist eyes looking straight into mine. "I can't... I mean, I do want to tell you two. But... please, not today."
I didn't even give it a second thought. Nodding, I stood up, sending a sharp glare toward my roommate. "Enough, Javier. We'll talk more about it tomorrow."
"Enough." I stuck my hand out, motioning for him to stop, my voice soft but firm. "Tomorrow."
Javier looked at me with concern, but finally rolled his eyes. "Fine. Whatever." He turned around, storming off into the kitchen.
I couldn't help but feel torn in two. Part of me wanted to tell Javier to screw off, that he was being an ass and needed to show some basic compassion, like any good doctor would. But, deep down inside, I knew my roommate too well, and he had earned my trust. If something was troubling him, it probably deserved my attention.
"He's pissed at me." Likax sighed, the depression in his wide eyes only growing. "I should probably get out of here."
"No, no." I leaned over the side of the side of the couch, doing my best to smile, despite the circumstances. "Javier's just wanting to make sure everyone's safe, including you. He can get a little worked up sometimes, though, and miss the big picture. Don't worry, I'll talk to him and iron things out. But you're staying here with us tonight, no question. That's something I will not budge on."
Likax didn't respond immediately, mulling the situation over, his eyes looking past my face as he did. Finally, he stood up, walked around the couch, and stopped directly in front of me. "Carson... I can't..."
The hell with it, I thought. I reached out and grabbed Likax's paw, holding it in my hand for a moment. Rubbing my thumbs on the soft flesh of his paw pads, I loved how warm they felt. Then, taking a deep breath, I leaned forward and gently kissed the bobcat on his furry cheek. It was only a quick peck, but it enough to leave him wide-eyed.
"Carson!" he gasped, a hint of excitement in his voice. "What are you doing?!"
"Is it too much?" I asked, afraid for a moment that I had crossed a boundary which I probably shouldn't have.
Likax stared at me, his eyes starting to sparkle. "...Not at all." He reached his paw up to my face, brushing the back of it against my cheek. He then leaned forward and kissed me, slower this time and on the lips. I closed my eyes and savored the moment, my heart nearly leaping out of my chest. It was all happening so fast, but it felt so perfect.
As Likax broke free from the kiss, leaned his head on my shoulder, and wrapped his arms around me in a warm embrace, I notice something kinda strange. I remember that before, in the forest, he had stood about half a foot shorter than me. Now, though, the bobcat was able to look me in the eye without having to tilt his head up or stand on his tiptoes at all; he seemed to be almost exactly my height. My gaze travelled down his naked back to his jeans, which had gone from baggy and loose to nearly skin-tight (or fur-tight, I suppose) and about to burst off. Javier was right; he had definitely gotten bigger.
At first, I started to worry, but then as I looked back at Likax's warm, passionate smile, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. It didn't matter if he was a prison escapee; it didn't matter that he seemed to have miraculously come back from the dead, and it certainly didn't matter if he grew to be seven feet tall or even seventy. I knew somehow that I could trust Likax, and that the two of us would protect each other for as long as we physically were able to.
Pulling back from me, Likax smiled, staying silent for a moment. Finally, he tilted his head to the side and said, "Well, if I'm gonna stay here tonight, is it alright if I go ahead and take a shower? My fur has been all sweaty and matted for far too long."
"Sure," I grinned, "upstairs, second door on the left. Towels are under the sink, and the green soap is mine; feel free to use that."
"Thanks." He gave me one more quick peck on the lips, his paw lingering on my chest for a few seconds longer, then headed up the stairs.
I felt my legs turn to rubber as the bobcat left the room. Did that really just happen, I thought. Did that sexy feline really just accept my advances, kissing me passionately in return? Was it all just a dream, or was it reality?
I shivered, my skin tingling with excitement. Whatever happened next, no matter how things ended up, I knew that this day would rank at the top of my list for years to come.