I watched Likax as he moved up, staring a bit as he left my sight. I swallowed and shook my head a little, trying to shake off the feelings. While I had certainly gotten eager at the idea of Likax staying around, and the thought crossed my mind to go up and peek in on his shower, this wasn't the best time for it. There were other things that had to be taken care of first.
I turned to the kitchen, sighing a bit as I began to move in. Javier was standing next to the doorway, clearly still listening in on the conversation that Likax and I had been having. He shook his head, and simply stared at me for a moment. "He sure calmed down fast... What did you do?"
"Just gave him a bit of support." I tried my best not to blush as I spoke, and though Javier looked suspiciously at me, there were other things on my mind. "Look, I'll explain later. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong? I think knowing what happened to a few hundred anthros is rather important!" Javier was trying to keep calm, but his voice was clearly starting to lose its composure. "Whatever happened to them is bad, but that's all we know. They might've died from some injury, or might've had to get put down... Whatever they did, it's pretty clear they were willing to keep on doing it to more anthros. I don't know about you, but whatever it is, it certainly didn't sound good."
"That doesn't mean you should be pushing Likax for it right now, though." I tried to keep my voice calm as I spoke. "I know it's important, but we're not going to get anything if we end up driving him away, or making him panic, or something." I could hear the shower starting to run, and tried my best not to think about Likax too much as I spoke. "After what happened to him, do you really think he's going to be in any condition to remember the details?"
"He needs to eventually." Javier snapped a little at me. "Look, I know he's not in the best condition, and normally, I'd suggest that he just take a few days to rest. But this is hardly a normal situation. I don't even know why he's still alive, and it's clear that something weird's going on here. Right now, if we don't find out everything we can, we're in trouble. There's no guarantee that Likax is going to stay healthy. For all we know, he could drop dead at any moment."
My heart skipped a beat at the words 'drop dead.' "But... But he's unlikely to die, right? I mean, you said his heart stopped, but somehow--"
"I have no idea what's going on!" Javier interrupted. "There are a lot of things that could be happening. We only know a few things right now, and it's essential that we find out everything we can if we want to make sure he's going to stay in one piece." Javier sat on one of the stools we had in the kitchen, pulling out one of his notebooks and scribbling something down on it. He always seemed to carry around at least three or four of them, jotting down notes whenever he had a chance.
"Fine." I did my best to keep calm, trying to peek over his shoulders. "What are you writing in there?"
"What we know so far. I don't want to forget something important." He turned to glance at me as he continued writing. "So far, all we've got is his story, and the fact that his body's definitely weird. He had no pulse, but he somehow recovered on his own. On top of that, he's grown a little bit, right?"
Sighing, I slowly started to nod. "More than a little. I got a good look. You're right... He's definitely bigger now."
"Right..." Javier said as he flipped a page, sitting his pen down for the moment. "Besides that... How long ago did you find him?"
It took a fair bit of time to try to catch Javier up on everything. I had to explain where I found him, and how I had brought him back. His notepad remained untouched while I spoke, but he resumed writing when I finished. I just watched him work, my thoughts drifting a little bit...
"Carson?" The bobcat's charming voice called down from the top of the stairs.
At first, I thought it was my daydream, but I realized Javier heard him too, and snapped back to reality. I walked back over to the kitchen doorway so that I could be heard more easily. "Yes, Likax?"
"Um, do you have -- I mean, is there..." He paused for a moment, and I wondered what could be bothering him. "Could you maybe come up here for a moment?"
Looking over at Javier, I begged him with my eyes to excuse me. The inkling of a smile formed on his face. "Go ahead and check on him," he said, grabbing his laptop, which was sitting on the counter nearby. "I'm gonna check online and see if I can find out anything more about anthros in federal prisons. Maybe that'll help us understand Likax a bit better."
I nodded. "Just make sure to take everything you read with a grain of salt. There's a lot of hostile sentiment towards anthros on the internet."
"Of course, Carson."
As Javier flipped open the computer, I stepped out of the kitchen towards the staircase, slowly making my way up. The bathroom door at the top was closed three-quarters of the way, the light still on inside, and I could hear the sound of the blow dryer running.
"Likax?" I called out as I gently rapped on the door. "What do you need?"
The blow dryer shut off, and a few seconds later the door opened, the bobcat's now-clean face smiling at me from inside. His fur looked much more soft and fresh than before, still a little damp, and he had a towel wrapped around his waist. "Hey, Carson. I was wondering..." He looked down at his feetpaws for a moment, a little shy or embarrassed about something, I wasn't sure what. "...I kinda need to borrow some clothes, if you have anything that you think would fit me."
"Of course," I nodded. Glancing past Likax, I noticed the dirty jeans he had been wearing earlier now sat wadded up on the floor. They seemed to have some newly-developed rips along the hips and upper inseam, the result of a suddenly-too-big feline unsuccessfully trying to squeeze into them, I guessed. I made sure the smile didn't leave my face as I made eye contact with Likax again, but I noticed he now was looking down at me, having grown a couple inches taller during the shower.
At first, I thought about broaching the subject, asking him if he had any idea of what was causing his growth. After how the conversation in the living room had gone, however, I didn't want to make Likax any more uncomfortable than necessary. If he didn't bring it up on his own, then at least for now, I wasn't going to pry.
"Let's see what we have in my dresser," I said as I stepped back into the hall, motioning for Likax to follow. The two of us headed into my bedroom. I made sure to leave the door open behind me so as not to give off the wrong impression (or to leave any room for my own temptation).
As soon as we entered, though, I wished that we hadn't, or at least that I had cleaned up a little beforehand. Dirty clothes were strewn about the floor, some in a small pile on the bed, and a few hanging off of a chair. The laundry basket was (ironically enough) filled with clean clothes, not yet having been put away after I had washed them a couple days ago. Several books formed a stack on the bedside table, and the books that were on a bookshelf had been thrown up there haphazardly, without any rhyme or reason. Dozens of loose papers and notebooks covered the large wooden desk on the opposite wall from the door, the fragments of writings I had done for school or for pleasure. I felt much more comfortable with the disorganized state of the room than I did with a spotless room like Javier's. It allowed me to breathe in all the miscellany of my life and be as creative as possible. Unfortunately, as I now began to fear, it didn't exactly give off the best first impression.
Likax, though, seemed unfazed by the mess, even impressed, whistling a little as he walked in. "Wow. I like this room," he said, no trace of sarcasm apparent in his voice. He walked over to my desk, glancing down at the papers. "You're a writer?" he asked as he put his paw on one of the notebooks, then quickly removed it, a guilty look on his face.
"You can look, it's okay," I assured him. "But yes, I'm actually minoring in Creative Writing at Centre. I've been writing short stories and poetry since I can remember being able to hold a pen."
"Impressive!" The bobcat exclaimed, his eyes lit up. Shuffling a few more papers around, he started smirking at me. "You do it all by hand? Don't you own a computer?"
"Nope," I shook my head as I sat down on the edge of my bed. "Javier lets me use his laptop when I need to, but I found back in high school that when I sit down at a keyboard and try to write, I'll inevitably get distracted and end up wasting an hour on Facebook or Wikipedia or whatever. It's better if I just don't give myself that temptation."
Likax brought his paw to his chin, nodding in thoughtful contemplation. "That makes sense," he said. "Limiting yourself can open up a lot of possibilities, interestingly enough."
"Exactly," I said, smiling. "My favorite English teacher, Mrs. Vincent, always would say that if all you have is a blank page and a pen, your imagination can roam free, going wherever it wants to. Adding tools like computers to the process only serves to put up fences for your thoughts, keeping you boxed in."
Likax grinned at this mental image, then sat down on the far side of the bed from me. "Ever get anything published?" he asked.
I shrugged, running my hand against the back of my neck. "Nothing major. A couple of book reviews in the Centro -- that's the student paper here. When I was 9, I had one of my short stories featured in the kid's magazine Stone Soup. And... well..."
"What?" Likax asked, scooting a little closer to me with a curious smile on his face.
My breathing started to quicken as I considered whether or not I should tell the bobcat about my poem. THE poem. The one that had spawned from so much heartbreak in my life a few years ago. On one hand, he'd probably appreciate the message I intended; then again, I didn't think it was particularly good writing, and the whole idea behind it seemed cheesy and embarrassing now in retrospect. Likax might even think that I was pandering to him and his current situation. "Nothing," I finally said. "That's it."
Likax persisted, though, placing his still-damp paw on my shoulder. "C'mon, Carson," he said with a supportive smile, "I can tell that you're holding something back. I'm not gonna let you just leave whatever it is hanging in the air like this."
I looked up into his wide-open eyes, which were reflecting the room's light and had a bit of a sparkle to them. I felt my insides beginning to twist with the decision I faced. Did I trust the bobcat enough yet to share the deepest, darkest place inside my heart?
Sighing, I nodded. "Okay. It's just... I had a poem published at the beginning of my senior year of high school. It..." I shook my head as I fought to keep my eyes from misting up. "It was just this stupid thing I scribbled out after my first boyfriend..." I stopped, swallowing and forcing down the lump that had formed in my throat. "...after he killed himself."
Likax's jaw dropped as he pulled back his paw from my shoulder, resting it on his lap. "Oh, Carson! I'm so sorry. I-- I shouldn't have prodded; I... had no idea..."
I shook my head and tried to look cheerful, but avoided looking directly at the bobcat. "No, it's okay. I'll admit, it took me a while to get over everything, to accept what had happened and stop blaming myself. He... he just had too many demons to battle." I paused for a moment, gathering my thoughts before continuing. "I couldn't save him. Not only did he have to deal with being involved in the only human-anthro relationship in our school, he--"
"Wait a second," Likax interrupted, scrunching up his nose. "You dated an anthro?"
I nodded. "Yeah. A snow leopard, actually. I guess I have a thing for felines." I finally turned to look into Likax's eyes, the hint of a smile appearing despite my glum expression, causing the bobcat to blush slightly.
"Hmm," Likax appeared to be thinking something, but he didn't ask any questions.
"Anyways," I continued, lying on my back and looking up at the ceiling fan, "I did spiral pretty far into depression right after he died, but writing the poem actually helped me get start to get out of that funk. I didn't really intend it to be seen by anyone else, but I trusted Mrs. Vincent, my English teacher, enough to show it to her, and she urged me to enter it into a state poetry contest the school participated in. I finally gave in, submitting under a pen name. Two months later, I got a notice in the mail that it had won first prize and was going to be published in the Courier-Journal."
Likax looked down at his feetpaws, his ears twitching. When I said the newspaper's name, though, his head suddenly shot back up and he turned to look at me. "Wait!" he exclaimed, "was your pen name Tomas Kinyard?"
I felt my heart skip a couple of beats when he said the name. "Uh... yeah. How did you--"
"And your poem, it was titled 'Shining in the Stream'?"
I sat back up, my jaw dropping in amazement. "Wha-- Where did-- How--?" I had trouble putting into words the sudden rush of emotions that had just washed over me, and was left speechless.
Likax stood up and shook his head in amazement. "This is unbelievable! Simply incredible! I never thought--"
I also jumped to my feet and eyed the bobcat as he paced back and forth in my bedroom. "Likax! What's going on here? How the hell did you know the name of my poem?"
He turned back to me, a wide grin on his muzzle. "Be right back!" he exclaimed, running out of the room. I stood there, partially frozen in shock, my mind still trying to put everything together. After twenty seconds, Likax burst back into the room, holding the jeans he had been wearing that day.
"You have no idea how much your poem meant to me while I was in prison." He pulled out something from the back pocket. It looked like a laminated piece of paper, seemingly folded hundreds of times and worn from heavy use. "I always kept it on me, reading it literally every day that I was locked up in that hellhole. I-- It kept me going, gave me hope when I thought about giving up."
He handed the paper to me. Sure enough, it was my poem, clipped out from the newspaper, slightly yellowed with age. I read the first lines again, which I hadn't looked at since I started college. "I can't believe this," I said, not able to hold back my tears any longer, my face becoming wet. "Why did you keep it? What about it struck you so deeply?"
Likax's eyes had also started to moisten. "I was so overcome with the feelings you poured onto the page, and how much you obviously loved your lost anthro friend... I still cry every single time I read it, Carson." He reached out his paw and touched my cheek. "'Tears mixing with blood in the stream, wand'ring alone in the red angry night,'" Likax quoted the final lines of my poem by memory. "'Until skin and fur reunite once again, my soul's only quest is for your inner light.'"
I turned away from Likax and stared out the window, watching the sun begin to set behind the bluegrass-covered hills, not sure what to think. As proud as my parents (and Mrs. Vincent) had been when I had gotten the poem published, I had never thought it to be one of my finer works, too personal and much more wrought with emotions than I preferred my writing to be. And, even though it had been published under a pen name, my high school classmates soon found out about it, and I was quickly labeled a "fur-fag" and shunned by the majority of the class. But now, there stood before me someone whom my writing had truly touched, who wasn't just telling me something I wanted to hear but actually had taken the poem to heart, even going as far as to commit it to memory. By far, this was the most thrilling moment of my history as a writer, but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to appreciate it as much as I felt I should.
Likax walked up behind me and gently placed his paw on my shoulder. "I knew that if there was even just one human out there," he continued as he gently took back the poem from my hand, "who cared so much about an anthro as the author of this poem did, then I still had a reason to live, if only to hope to meet him. I just never dreamed that I'd ever get that chance."
I turned around, and the two of us stared into each other's eyes for some time. Everything that had happened today seemed just too astonishing to be mere coincidence. I didn't believe in fate, but something seemed to have brought the two of us together in the woods today, and whatever the reason or cause, I was grateful.
"Well," I finally choked out, "I'm glad that someone got as much out of reading that poem as I did from writing it." A chuckle managed to break through my clenched throat. "I gotta say, Likax... I'm touched that it meant so much to you."
Smiling, Likax stepped closer and wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. He even lifted me up a few inches off the ground, leaving no doubt in my mind that he was continuing to grow. When he noticed my feet were dangling in midair, he quickly sat me back down to the ground, stepping back a few feet. "Oops," he said, a sheepish grin appearing on his face.
"Don't worry about it," I said, grateful for both the change in mood and the opportunity to ask a burning question. "So, uh.... I guess since it's come up..."
"You've noticed it too?" Likax asked, his eyes appearing slightly worried.
"It's kinda hard to miss. You're almost a foot taller than when I first saw you in the woods." His ears started to droop, and I patted him on the back reassuringly. "It's okay, though. I'm not saying it's bad that you're bigger; I'm just curious. Do you have any idea how it happened? Was this something..." I caught myself before I mentioned the experiments, but Likax was too clever to miss where I was heading.
The bobcat closed his eyes and sighed, shaking his head. "I have no idea what's happening," he admitted. "And, no, this didn't occur at all during my time in prison, as far as I can remember. I've always been a bit on the scrawny side, so it's a major change for me. Maybe I shouldn't be complaining," he opened his eyes and looked back at me, a mischievous (and, I thought, sexy) smile forming, "but it kinda makes it hard to fit into my clothes."
"Clothes! Right!" I rushed over to the dresser, opening up a drawer. "That's what we came in here for, wasn't it?"
Likax leaned against the wall and chuckled, his eyes still full of mirth. "It'd be helpful. Unless you want me to just wear a towel around the house all day. Or less."
I bit my tongue and continued foraging through my dresser. Most of the clothes I had were now a little too small for Likax, but I finally pulled out a white tank top that had always hung loose on my chest, along with a pair of gold nylon shorts that had white vertical stripes on the sides. I handed them to Likax. "Try these on."
"Thanks," Likax said, heading back to the bathroom to change. I moved the dirty clothes off the desk chair and sat down, still overcome with the events of the day, my imagination running wild with what the near future could bring. A minute later, I heard the bathroom door open, and Likax walked back into the room. The clothes were a perfect fit (for now), the elastic waistband still stretchy enough to accommodate the growing bobcat, and the snug shirt form-fitting around his toned chest muscles. I certainly thought he was attractive before, but now, especially dressed in my clothes, he was downright irresistible.
"Okay," I stood up, adjusting my pants as I did so, "so what do you want to do for the rest of the evening?"
"Well," Likax thought for a moment, "we should stay inside, for tonight at least, until we've come up with a master plan for what to do. But in the meantime, I was thinking...well, that I'd love for you to show me more of your writing."
I couldn't help but pause as I heard him say it. "My writing? There's really not too much like what you know..." I couldn't help feeling a little encouraged, but I certainly didn't want Likax to see something too different. "I told you that the poem was an exception, right? I don't usually write stuff like that..."
"I still want to see, though!" His expression was still clearly excited, and he was trying to peek around the room, looking around for any loose sheets of paper that were lying around. I got up and started rummaging through the mess, trying to collect the bits and pieces that I could gather.
"Sorry... I'm not really organized..." I shook my head a little bit, blushing as I wondered if it was really worth showing him. "I think most of the finished stuff is in my binder..." I sighed a little bit, quietly stuffing the papers into a drawer before digging through my backpack. "I usually carry that around with me. If you really want to-"
"I do!" I jumped a little as I noticed him standing right behind me, eagerly looking over my shoulder as I dug through. His ears were shifting in his excitement, and he leaned in closer, his hands on my shoulders as I looked. I just chuckled and smiled as I found what I was looking for and pulled it out, doing my best not to let my happiness show too obviously.
I stood up before holding the binder out in front of me. It wasn't that thick, but it was a rather nice one, covered in a bit of fabric and cleaned up a bit. It wasn't too much but hopefully, it was enough for him to look through. "Here. It's nothing special, but I think it's most of the stuff that's really finished. I've got a lot of scattered works in progress elsewhere, but most of that doesn't make too much sense yet." He seemed to grow a wide grin as I handed the binder to him. When I let go, he happily held it in his arms, and I almost thought I felt the room starting to shake as he bounced around a bit.
"Thanks!" He smiled as he cracked it open, sitting back on my bed without a moment's pause.
"Hey, easy! You just showered, you don't want my dirty clothes against you or something!" I tried to shift the pile off of my bed, tugging at it a little as I tried to get things clear enough for him to rest.
"It's fine. After everything that's happened, getting a little filthy won't be a huge deal." He smiled at me as he leaned back against the wall of my room, shifting up and starting to look through the binder.
"It's mostly just some short stories," I said, looking over his shoulder. "I'm better at them then at poetry. Half the time, I end up digging through a thesaurus when I'm writing a poem."
He shook his head as he looked at me. "It's what you end up choosing in the end that really shows, not how you got there." He let his eyes rest on me for a moment, before they shifted back into my writing. "Really, how come you don't have anything made by a formal publisher?"
"I'm still learning the details. There are still bits and pieces that I need to work on, and I don't want to really submit something until I'm ready. Until then, it's mostly been small stuff." I smiled a little to myself as I saw his eyes dart line to line, reading a little faster than I thought he could. He seemed content, and I let a few moments pass by silently. As his eyes moved steadily, his body steadily rose and fell with each breath. I was amazed to think that he was close to dying less than a few hours ago, when he was so calm and relaxed now. When I were certain that he was deep into the text, I turned and started to walk away.
"Hey, Carson?" I turned back to look, and his eyes had broken from the papers, looking back up at me. "D-do you mind keeping me company while I read?" He seemed to shift a little bit, sitting up straight as he looked right at me. I couldn't help but smile, and part of me certainly wanted to stay with him. Still, there were things I had to take care of, and Javier would be too distracted to make dinner. I took a few moments to decide, before responding, "Sure, if you want. Just let me know if you have any comments or questions, okay?"
Likax's eyes lit up in excitement as I nodded my head, and I could hear him start to purr softly. After a few moments, though, the purring was replaced by a low growling sound. The bobcat looked down at his stomach, then looked back up at me, his eyes wide in embarrassment.
"Sorry," he mumbled, smirking slightly.
I leaned against the doorframe and smiled. "Sounds like somebody's hungry," I said.
"Yeah," Likax admitted. "I haven't really eaten anything in over twenty-four hours." As if to drive the point home, his stomach growled again, this time louder. "But that's okay!" he quickly added. "I can wait 'till later to eat! I really want to see more of your writing!
"How 'bout this," I countered, feeling a little hungry myself. "I'll go downstairs and place an order for pizza, and then I'll come back up and we can read while we wait for it to be delivered."
The bobcat's whiskers twitched at the word 'pizza'. "A-are you sure?" he asked a bit timidly. "I mean, I don't have any way to pay for my share..."
"Pay?!" I shook my head fervently. "Don't mention that word! You're my guest; I'll take care of you, don't worry."
"Carson..." Likax closed his eyes, and I noticed his short bushy tail had started to wag slightly. He looked like he wanted to protest, but he simply bowed his head in humble gratitude. "Thank you, Carson."
He looked so cute, so adorable right now (despite his steadily-growing stature), that I couldn't resist. Stepping directly in front of him, I leaned forward and kissed his forehead, quickly pulling back and smiling playfully. He looked up at me with an expression of befuddlement that quickly turned into a cheesy grin as I left the room without another word