"We need to talk." My heart immediately sank when I heard Javier's voice from the doorway. He had his laptop in his hands, and was shooting me a rather harsh glare as he approach. I sighed a little bit as I put my pen down, turning to look at him.
"This is about Likax, isn't it?" I had expected Javier to ask me about the bobcat, but I really didn't know what to say. Sure, the cat was different, and there was something going on with his body. However, that didn't seem like enough for Javier to have acted as quiet as he had.
"Yes, and no. Likax is troubling, but he doesn't seem bad." I was a little surprised to hear those words coming from his mouth. "I know. I didn't trust him, and blah blah blah. That can wait for now. What's more important is that you've completely lost it when it comes to dealing with him."
"I've lost it? What's that supposed to-"
"It means," he interrupted, "that you've obviously fallen for the guy." I tried to stammer out a response, but Javier only had a vaguely sardonic look on his face, before shaking his head and chuckling. "Come on, Carson. I've been your roommate how many years, now? You think I wouldn't notice that?"
"I thought I was being discrete..." I barely managed to mutter something, and he gave a rather obvious laugh.
"We'll save that for later. Right now, we have more pressing issues." He sat down on my bed, looking at me. "First off, the obvious. I assume you've noticed he's still growing?"
"Kind of hard to miss it, yeah. He's already having a hard time fitting in the stuff I lent him, and it's only been a few hours."
"It's been slowing down a little bit, but not enough. He's gotten maybe two feet taller." Javier's voice was starting to get a little anxious as he spoke. "It's slowing down a little, but not enough. As far as I can tell, if it keeps going at the rate it's been, he'll barely fit through the doorway by tomorrow, worst case. And that's assuming whatever happens to him doesn't pick up or something."
"What? I know he's growing, but it's barely-"
"Carson, he's grown two feet in maybe three hours. In case you haven't noticed, it hasn't exactly been that long." Javier's voice was starting to rise, and I could tell that he wasn't very good at holding back his anxiety by now. "And that's only one thing. I assumed you noticed him playing the game?"
"You're right. He picked it up fast, but it shouldn't be that fast..."
"It's not just learning the game. His reflexes were improving, too. Never mind human reaction speed, he's probably broken some anthro records. I don't know what's happened to his body, but there's something unnatural about it."
"S-so what? He never meant-"
"Carson, this isn't about if he's a good person or not!" Javier's voice was growing louder, and I was afraid that Likax might hear him shouting before the night was over. "This is about the fact that something weird's going on with him! He's the one that told us they were doing some experiment, and we've seen some of the results, right? Who's to say there isn't anything worse? For all we know, he could just randomly burst into flame at any moment!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" I was trying to keep calm, but when Javier was starting to lose his composure, it was usually difficult for him to do the same. "Even if that happens, we'll deal with it. But there's no point in worrying right now, right? If he's got better reflexes or whatever, or if he's bigger, it means he'll be able to take care of himself." My heart raced a little bit as I spoke, privately hoping that the cat was willing to protect the two of us, as well.
"Fine. Let's assume that for now, he's going to fit in the house and he's not going to cause problems. What about the people after him? I doubt we'll be left alone for a very long time. Even assuming that nobody saw you bring him here, they're going to have a bulletin out on him. It won't be long before people know about him as an escapee, and we won't be able to hide him then!"
"W-we won't have to." I swallowed a little, and Javier gave me a questioning look before he spoke.
"Oh, no. Don't tell me... That phone call?"
"I think it was some guy named Mujexa. He knew my name, and he knew we were keeping Likax here. I think he's a friend, though... He said so, and if he wasn't, we'd already have people breaking down our door, right?"
Javier muttered the name to himself a couple of times, opening his laptop as he thought. The new information seemed to have calmed him for the moment, and it didn't take long before he began typing. "I don't think I've run into that name before... Who is he... Why would Likax know..." He shook his head a little bit, clearly trying to contain himself from the verge of panicking. "What did he say?"
"That... that I should get out of here with Likax tomorrow." Javier's mouth dropped open as I spoke. "I... I think I have to. I don't think he mentioned you, but... But he knew my name, right? That means somehow, he must've seen me pick up Likax in the forest. Unless Likax somehow made contact while we were both distracted, that's the only time we could've been seen together."
"So that's it? You're just going to pack up and leave? Carson, this is insane! Even for a crush of yours, you're just going to-"
"I know that!" I was growing more nervous as I spoke, and the sheer ludicrousness of it all was hitting me hard. "But if there's really someone after me, I don't have any other options, do I?" Javier only stared quietly at me as I spoke. "Besides... I know it's probably stupid, but... But I care for the guy, okay?"
Javier quietly looked at me, finally shaking his head. "Figures..." He sighed as he resumed typing, though his eyes seemed to remain focused on me. "When you've made up your mind about something like this, there's just no changing it. I won't waste my time trying." He stopped for a moment, lifting up a finger and pointing downstairs. "Just let him know and get yourself packed up. I have to figure out what I'm supposed to do now, too."
I swallowed before nodding to him. I stood up slowly, starting to walk out the room. "Javier... Thanks for putting up with me. I mean, over all the years."
He just gave a small chuckle as he waved to me. "We'll have to see if I have to keep doing it." I couldn't help but smile a little bit as I started to walk out the room, hoping Likax was going to be okay with the news.
The digital alarm clock on my bedside table read 12:15 when I left my room. It wasn't really that late for me; staying up until two or three in the morning had become commonplace since I had started college. I knew, though, that Likax was probably exhausted and needed his sleep after all that he had been through today. Running away from the police and coming back to life after being seemingly dead weren't exactly everyday occurrences. I second-guessed myself, thinking about letting him sleep a few hours more.
However, Javier had made it all too clear: the two of us needed to have a plan if we were going to survive, and that plan needed to be put in motion immediately, before the sun rose in the morning. And I realized that I couldn't begin to formulate any sort of plan without the bobcat's help.
I slowly and quietly walked down the stairs, careful not to trip or accidentally miss a step in the dark. As I got to the bottom step, I saw blankets and sheets thrown onto the floor in front of the couch, and I assumed that our furry houseguest had gotten too hot and thrown them off as he rolled over in his sleep.
The couch was situated in such a way that it faced away from the stairs, so I couldn't quite make out if he was asleep or not from where I stood. "Likax," I called out, "are you awake?" Not hearing a response, I walked over to the couch. As I bent over the back of it to try and wake him up, my blood turned cold.
The couch was empty.
Breathing faster now, I spun around and darted over to the wall, hitting the light switch. Shielding my eyes as the room illuminated, I scanned around, not seeing any trace of the large feline. "Likax?!" I called out again, more frightened this time. Still, no answer.
"Carson?" Javier called from upstairs. "What's wrong?"
"It's -- it's Likax!" I was on the verge of tears. "He's gone!"
Quickly, Javier ran down the stairs, his face almost as shocked as mine. "Gone?" he asked. "What -- what do you mean?"
"What do you think I mean? He's nowhere to be found!" My brain and my heart demanded that I start searching for him, but my feet had seemingly frozen in place, unable to cope with the situation. Did I say something offensive to drive him away? Was he afraid Javier was starting to turn against him? Or did someone -- I shuttered as I finished the thought -- did someone sneak into my house and catnap him as he slept?
As I finally got control of my limbs, I began looking in the other rooms of my house. Both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms were empty, and there was no sign of the bobcat in the utility room or down in the basement. As I started to look through the kitchen, however, I noticed that the screen door there leading out to the backyard had been left open just a crack. Could Likax -- or someone with Likax -- have left through that way?
I ran to the door and flung it open, stepping out onto the back porch, not caring that it was the middle of the night and I was wearing only lounge pants with a simple white undershirt. I scanned my backyard for signs of Likax or anything else that would indicate an unwelcome person having paid us a visit. Finding nothing, I then looked over at the backyards of our neighbors on both sides, still unable to locate any clues.
Tears were streaming from my eyes now, causing my vision to start to blur. "This isn't fair," I said aloud to whoever wanted to listen. "Why would the universe give me someone like Likax, someone so perfect and caring, and then just yank him away from me like that?"
Before I could sink too far into that despair, however, I caught the shape of something or someone moving out of the corner of my right eye. Spinning my head that way, I saw -- nothing, at least at first. Part of me wanted to give up then and there, go back inside, and collapse on my bed again, but the movement I saw gave me a sliver of hope. Could it be--?
I saw it again, a large shadowy shape trying to sneak by undetected near the light of a lamppost. The figure looked to be over seven feet tall with a broad build. "It has to be..." I whispered to myself, as I felt a glimmer of hope inside me start to light. "It just HAS to!"
Trusting my instincts, I jumped down from my porch and started running barefoot through the grass, trying to catch up with the shadow and not caring who saw me. The figure was moving purposefully but slowly, allowing me to easily catch up with it. As I got closer, I saw the light grey fur and pointed, black-spotted ears that I had come to know so well during this afternoon and evening. It was definitely my bobcat.
Just before I got to him, Likax turned to look at me, his eyes nearly bulging with surprise. I leapt at him, throwing my entire body into his soft, well-kempt fur and his warm, firm muscles underneath it. Even with a full-running start, the large bobcat barely moved when I slammed into him, standing tall and stable. I wrapped my arms around his midsection in a desperate attempt to not let him go, and buried my face into his chest.
"Carson!" he hissed, careful to not let his voice get too loud. "What the hell are you doing?" He wrapped a large powerful arm around me, trying to gently pry me off, but I held tight. Seeing that I wasn't going to budge, he decided to gently rest a paw against my back.
"Me?" Close to hysterics, I didn't care nearly as much if I was heard, though the muffling of Likax's chest fur near my mouth helped take care of that for me. "What are YOU doing? Why would you suddenly vanish like that in the middle of the night?"
He didn't answer for a moment, and I looked up to see a pained expression on his face. As close up as I was to him now, I could definitely tell that he had gotten huge. Even clinging to him with my feet a few inches off the ground, he still towered head and shoulders above me. He had to be at least seven-and-a-half feet tall. I realized he was still wearing the clothes I lent him, though the shirt had ripped halfway down the middle of the chest and back, and the shorts looked like they were just about to burst off, barely covering his crotch and upper thighs, nearly skin tight. Of all the emotions swirling in my head right now, the most prominent was an incredible sense of physical attraction, one like I had never felt before. Likax was so big, so strong and powerful, yet so gentle and caring... I felt my affection for him growing stronger with each inch of height he gained.
"Look," he finally answered, shaking his head, "I didn't want you to have to be involved in my predicament anymore. You and Javier did so much for me, and I care so deeply about you, Carson. The very last thing I want is to put you at risk. There's just too much about me you don't know."
"I know enough," I said, a quiet confidence building inside me. "I know you're a kind-hearted cat who's curious, inquisitive, and a joy to be with. I know that you have a passion for what you believe deep down inside you. That passion may have led you to being thrown into prison in the first place, but it also kept you going through all those months of solitary confinement. Most of all, though, I know that the one thing I want to do more than anything in the entire world is to be with you and help you through this."
The bobcat sighed and closed his eyes, opening them after a few seconds with a warm but worried look. "It's not that easy," he said. "There's nothing you can do to help me, any more than you've already done. I have to run away; I just have to! Staying here in Danville is suicide for me, Carson. And--" He covered his face with his paw, and I could tell that he was starting to cry. "--I'm horrible at saying goodbyes. I figured that I'd hurt you only a little by slipping out in the middle of the night rather than getting arrested or shot in front of you and hurting you much much worse, possibly even leading you to getting arrested as well! You gotta believe me that I only left the way I did because I wanted you to be able to disavow any knowledge of where I had gone to. It'd eat me up inside to know that I caused one of the few caring, compassionate humans in the world to get thrown into jail for assisting a fugitive."
I sniffed a little as he said this, turning my back to him for a moment and looking out at the empty alleyway on the other side of my neighbor's fence. I wasn't sure which feeling inside me was stronger: hurt for Likax having abandoned me, or awe and understanding that he did it because he wanted me to be safe. I wiped my tears on my sleeve as I tried to put my thoughts into order.
"Likax," I finally said, my voice cracking as I spoke, "I believe you. I know you're too honest and caring to lie to me, and, I admit, I'm touched that you wanted me to be safe. But you've got to understand," I turned around to face him and grasped his paw in my hand, "I'd do anything for you. I WANT to help you! EVERY step of the way!"
He shook his head slightly. "I know you do, Carson," he said. "I just don't think it's wise..."
"Likax," I said as I stood as tall as I could and looked him directly in the eye, "there's something... peculiar about me that you should know." I did my best to try to smile as I looked up at Likax, but he seemed to have a small look of worry on his face. "Nothing quite as major as you, though, but..."
The cat shifted away, trying to loosen my grip a little. His hand held mine, and though he tried to pry me off, it was clearly half-hearted. "I... I think you'd have a hard time finding someone as... peculiar as I am right now..."
I managed to give a small laugh, though I really couldn't feel any humor in it. "I think so too. But... I'm odd enough." I slowly let go, my body sliding against his as my feet touched the ground again. "When it comes down to something like this... I really am stubborn."
I saw him shake his head as he looked down at me. "You're calling that odd? I really don't think-"
"I'm telling you this now, because... Like it or not, I'm not letting you go alone. Even if you try to sneak out, I'll follow you. If you aren't with me when I wake up, then I'll do my best to find you. And even if you end up getting caught..." My throat had gone dry as I spoke, but I did your best to continue. "Then I'll still stick with you."
"No... Carson, it's too dangerous." I could hear Likax's voice faltering, and though he was trying to keep me safe, it didn't seem as though he really liked the idea of what he was trying to do. "There's no reason for you-"
"Don't even try arguing." Likax seemed to jump a little as he heard my voice. Even with his size and strength, the firm tone of my voice had surprised him. "I told you, I'm stubborn. If I make a major choice, I'm sticking through with it until the end."
Likax looked at me, worry clear in his face. "You can be a bit stubborn, fine. But I'm not going to let you just follow for something like this. This is much more dangerous than-"
"I've gotten in trouble because of it before... Had a few fights, given my parents a bit of a time... I think Javier knows as well as anybody after I totaled his car once. But you know what?" I swallowed as I just look at Likax, my hands drifting down to hold against his. "I don't regret it. It's a miracle that I'm still in one piece after some of the trouble it's gotten me in, but I'm glad I've done what I've done. And I won't regret this, either."
"You... Why would you-"
I only managed a small noise as I leaned in. I did my best to stand on the tips of my feet, reaching up to try to get a good grip on Likax. Though I could barely reach him, I managed to give him a lingering kiss on his cheek before I lost my balance and slid onto him, gripping over his back. "Because I care about you, too, Likax... I care about you too much to just let you leave like this..."
I could see him shifting as he gently held me. It certainly seemed like he wanted to speak, but he was trying to hold everything in. I just held tight against him, my head resting against his chest as I heard and felt his heartbeat. It was racing, but despite whatever had happened to him in the past, it was now going strong and steady. I was just relieved that he was still here in my arms, and that I could still hold him like this.
"Likax... Please... Don't try to run away from me."
"I... I don't want to... I don't..." His voice was faded, and I could feel his arms just hanging over my shoulders as he held me. It certainly seemed like he wanted to stay with me, but he was trying hard not to admit it. "But you can't-"
"I'm coming with you." He tried to respond, but I shook my head. "I'm coming, whether you want me to or not." Despite his misgivings and my worries, my voice was quite clear when I said it. By now, it wasn't a suggestion, or me asking for permission. It was a fact, and despite his worries, Likax had no choice but to accept it. He looked at me in silence, before forcing a small yelp out of me as I felt both of his arms wrapping against my shoulders.
"You... You're crazy, you know that?" Despite all of his worries, Likax couldn't help but break into a smile. He lifted me up in his arms, just letting my weight lean into him as he held me.
"Yes, I think I got that when I almost tackled a seven-foot bobcat." I felt his hand press into the back of my head, my arms softly pressed against his sides as I let him keep me close. "But you wouldn't still be here if I wasn't a little bit crazy, so... I'll just have to deal with that."
Likax nodded softly, and I could feel his face brushing against my head. "Yeah... I'm glad, too... Thanks, Carson."
The two of us held each other silently. I was almost drifting off as I looked at him, and his gentle smile seemed to keep my mind drifting away. I felt his body pressing to mine, and I could swear I felt him growing. Despite holding so still, his fur seemed to push along, and his arms rubbed gently into me. Only the feeling of a stiff breeze snapped me back into reality.
"Come on, Likax... Let's head back for now... Even if it's just for one night, we should rest and figure this out while we can."
I saw him swallow as he tried to make a decision, and just let him hold me tight. It only took a few seconds before I heard him reply in a weak voice.
"Yeah... Let's go back for now. There's no point in me trying to sneak away now, is there?" He just lightly held me as he began walking. Though it felt a bit awkward, it seemed as though the thought of letting me down hadn't crossed his mind. He easily began moving back to our house, and though he was certainly large and his weight made it impossible to be completely silent, he still managed to deaden his footsteps as he crept back in.