Javier was around the door when the two of us arrived. It took a moment for him to realize that we were there, but he gave an immense sigh of relief as he opened the door for us, muttering something to himself. "Just hurry and get back in here, okay? I can't imagine how you two could stand out more right now."
Both Likax and I simultaneously managed to give him a quick glare, as if to say, "Don't ruin the moment". However, he ignored it as he turned back inside, leaving it open for us to follow. Likax's fit through the doorway was a little awkward, and he took a minute to do it. Although he could probably manage it normally, he still was eager to keep me in his arms. Though he moved about a little, it was only after a few moments of turning and shifting that he managed to get inside.
"Right, then. First things first, before you decide to run off again." Javier was clearly a little irritated by now, and continued speaking as Likax sat on the couch, positioning me in his lap. "I've packed a bit of food and some emergency supplies in that bag." He nodded towards a plain bag on the ground, fastened by a loose string. "Considering we can't really get you any clothes that'll be guaranteed to stay on, I just tossed in a huge blanket. That's everything I could find for you, and I doubt we'd have a chance to get anything else."
I nodded quietly, though Likax looked a little taken aback. He looked back at Javier with a bit of surprise. "When'd you have time for that?"
"Just now, I'm willing to bet. He probably did it the moment he saw me catch you. Javier's fairly good at planning things out. He just panics when he doesn't."
"Heard that." Javier shot me a quick look, but I gave him a small shrug before he resumed his speech. "Anyways, just do your best with that much. You might be able to get some more at a store or something if you go in alone, Carson, but try not to show up in public places together. You already stand out enough as it is." He sighed as he looked at the two of us. Likax seemed to be too distracted to really listen to Javier, but what he heard next quickly drew his attention. "Now, then, we need you to tell us everything. Now."
I could feel Likax’s fur bristle against my skin at Javier’s somewhat-harsh tone. The passion in his eyes seemed to disappear instantly, and I barely made out a low growling sound coming from his chest. My first instinct was to rebuke Javier, but as I opened my mouth to do so, he cut me off before I even got the chance to speak.
“Look,” he said, talking directly to Likax, “I know it’s not going to be easy to talk about all this right now, but you have to try. Any small bit of information you could give me or Carson could come in handy later saving your lives.”
“But Javier,” I started with a frown on my face, “I thought you agreed that we wouldn’t talk about this kinda thing until tomorrow.”
Javier pointed to the clock on the DVD player, which now read 12:37. “It is tomorrow. Besides, with how things are going, I don’t think we’re gonna have much more of a chance to talk. You two need to hit the ground running first thing in the morning, if not sooner.”
“But--” I tried to interject again, but Likax took my hand and gave it a firm but gentle squeeze. “It’s okay, Carson,” he said, looking into my eyes. “I’ll do my best to explain everything. I’m a big cat now, after all.” A sparkle appeared for a moment in his eyes, making me hope that he did indeed feel better. He turned to Javier, his expression again serious. “So what do you want to know?”
“Well,” Javier said, “frankly, I’d like to know everything you could possibly tell me, but I don’t think we have the time for that. Let me try to ask the most important questions, at least from my perspective. Then, at the end, you can let me know if there’s any other bits of crucial information that I missed.”
The bobcat nodded. “Okay, I’ll do my best.”
Javier sat down and leaned in close to Likax. “All right, let’s start from the beginning. First off: what lead to you getting thrown in prison? I found a small article online reporting on your arrest, but I’d like to hear it from your own mouth.”
“Was it that article from the Free-Fur Press?” Javier nodded in confirmation. “I read that at the prison library before they transferred me to solitary confinement. Well,” Likax sat back, making sure I had plenty of room in his lap to be comfortable, “the reporter got it more or less right. There’s some details that she missed, like the fact that I did my best to ignore the hecklers until they actually started tearing down some of the loudspeakers we had set up, and the small detail that they all were armed with switchblades, but everything else is pretty accurate.”
“Did you actually assault anyone or instigate violence like the police said?” Javier asked bluntly.
Likax started to shake his head, but then stopped. “N-- well, not really. I never called for anyone in the crowd to attack the hecklers. I just wanted them to get away from our sound equipment. I did scratch up one big burly bald guy’s face pretty bad with my claws, and accidentally knocked down his wife, who was with him, in the process, but, to be fair, he was brandishing a knife and had tried to stab me with it.”
“You see,” I said, smugly smiling at Javier, “the article was right. He was acting in self-defense.”
Javier didn’t respond to me, his thoughts having moved on to something else. After a few second of looking down at the floor in silence, he made eye contact with Likax again. “So what happened after the arrest? I couldn’t find any articles or information about your case going to trial.”
“That’s because there wasn’t any trial,” Likax sighed. “After twenty-four hours in the county jail downtown, I was put in a truck and driven to the maximum-security federal prison a few miles east of LaGrange. No one ever told me why, and believe me, I protested endlessly, demanding to speak to an attorney. I even got knocked out when I struggled with one of the guards while being transported. After that, I found myself unjustly imprisoned without any hope of a legal response, left there to be a lab rat for those sick fucks’ experiments.”
Hearing Likax swear startled me; the bobcat had been so gentle and pleasant since I had first seen him. I figured, however, that after going through what he had gone through, not having any resentment or feelings of hostility towards his captors would be the real surprise.
Javier, however, seemed unfazed. "There's one thing that doesn't make sense about that, though," he said. "If you were imprisoned without a trial, why didn't any of your friends or family get a lawyer, or go to the media, or protest on your behalf-- anything like that?"
Likax chuckled and shook his head. "It sounds like you don't know much about how anthros are treated in our society, Javier. There's so much repression and brutality, even coming from the police themselves, that I doubt the few that I would consider my 'friends' would have enough courage to go against the system like that." He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning back on the couch. "And I don't have much family to speak of. My father died before I was born, and my mother... let's just say she wasn't cut out to be a parent. I was taken away from her when I was seven and have lived with my grandmother since then. Now she's one powerful old bobcat; she taught me how to be proud of who I am and what I could do, and if anyone tried to find out what happened to me after I was locked away, I imagine it was her. But I don't think she probably would've gotten very far. A teacher's pension doesn't buy you much legal help, and I doubt there were many mainstream reporters willing to listen to her talk about her missing grandson. I... In a way, I feel sorry for what she has probably put herself through, all on my account."
Javier sat quietly, contemplating all that Likax had said. What the cat described, I knew fairly well, having dealt with or witnessed similar discrimination during my previous relationship. Still, it angered me a little to think about how mistreated anthros still were, and how little I could do to change any of it.
"Okay," Javier finally said after a minute's silence, "I think I have a pretty firm grasp of what was going on before you got arrested. What I need to know now is what you saw in the testing rooms in the prison. What had they done that disturbed you so much?"
Likax sighed and sagged his head a little, but didn't take long to answer. "Okay, Javier. I'll tell you. You're not going to like it, but I guess you need to know. Just... just keep in mind that it's not going to be easy for me to say or for you to hear." He took a deep breath before continuing. "The things I saw... they would turn your stomach to see them. Many of the testing chambers had the bodies of their previous subjects still in them. A few of the anthros looked like they had died in their sleep. But there were several dozen whose..." He stopped again, his voice starting to crack. "...whose bodies were...mutilated. That's the only word to describe it."
My mouth dropped open in horror. "Mutilated?" I repeated. "You mean, like cut up?"
Likax shook his head. "No. Nothing that simple. Some looked like they had lost any trace of fur, their skin and muscle completely bare. Some appeared as if they had been burned alive, their fur or skin severely charred. A few... a few of the most horrific ones... the only way I can think of to describe them is that they looked like their insides had burst out of their bodies, blood, muscle, and bone all having broken through skin and fur. I... I'm not sure how it all happened, but I'm fairly certain of what the experiments were trying to do."
Javier's eyes lit up at this last sentence, and he leaned forward. "What?!"
Gulping, Likax looked up and stared directly into Javier's eyes. "They were trying to turn anthros into humans. They were trying to... de-fur us."
An intense silence filled the room. I didn't know what to say to that; it seemed so incredible, so far-fetched that if I had been hearing it from anyone other than the bobcat who was holding me in his arms, I wouldn't have believed it.
For his part, Javier didn't seem to be comprehending it either. "H-how could they... I mean, what in the... De-fur you?"
Likax slowly nodded. "It's too hard to believe, right? Too implausible?" He shrugged his shoulders, gently moving me up and down in his arms as he did. "I didn't believe it either when I first heard the rumors, back before I had gotten locked up. I thought it was just the ramblings of an old, demented ex-con. But after seeing what I saw, and going through what I went through… it just fit so perfectly. There's nothing else they really could have been doing."
My eyes had begun to grow damp, and I buried my face into Likax's chest-fur, partially to dry them, and partially to feel the warmth of his quick-beating heart. A thought crossed my mind: why did Likax not end up like the others? What was so different about the experiments he had gone through, or, perhaps instead, what was so different about the bobcat himself? And what if Likax had been one of the others who hadn't made it? Even though I had only known him for a day, I had grown so close to him in that time that I couldn't imagine what I would do if anything like that happened to him. For a moment, I was thankful that he had somehow managed to escape that torturous place unharmed, but then another, darker realization set in: they were still after him, and there was still a very real chance that Likax could be forced to go back to that awful place, or worse. I shuttered at the thought, and vowed to never let that happen to my bobcat.
Javier had closed his eyes to take all of this in, contemplative as always. After another silent minute, however, he quickly stood up, startling both Likax and I. He walked at a quick pace towards the stairs, disappearing from sight. Likax and I looked at each other, both slightly confused. "What was that for?" he asked me.
I shook my head and shrugged. "Beats me," I said. "I have a hard time figuring out what's going through Javier's head sometimes."
I heard what sounded like a large chest creak open, then shut several seconds later. Javier's bedroom door slammed shut, and he quickly shuffled down the stairs. As I turned to look at him, I quickly realized why he had left, and my face nearly went pale.
"Jesus, Javier!" I exclaimed. "Where the hell did you get that gun?"
He didn't answer me directly, only sticking it out, grip pointing towards me and the barrel facing the side. "Take it," he said, his face firm and serious. "If what Likax says is true, then the people who are after you will stop at nothing to capture him. You need every advantage you can have."
At first, I tried to push away the firearm, but Javier insisted. Reluctantly, I gave in and grabbed it from him, examining the gun closely. It was a modern-enough looking pistol, small but surprisingly heavy, with a black rubber grip and a metallic barrel. My mind travelled back to the only time in my life that I had ever fired a gun, when I was sixteen. The recoil it had given me then had terrified me and made me never want to touch one ever again.
"Javier…" I murmured lowly. "I don't know what I could do with this."
"Then you better learn quickly," Javier stated, his face rigid and firm. "You're probably gonna have to use it soon."
I looked up at Likax with a questioning look, asking with my eyes if he approved of me being armed. He sighed slowly, closed his eyes, and nodded. With his acceptance, I took a deep breath and turned back to Javier, saying only one word: "Okay."
Javier walked over to the bag he had packed for us, sticking a small box into it. "The gun's unloaded now," he said, "but this ammunition box is full. It should hopefully get you as far as you need to go. At least to Mujexa's."
At the name 'Mujexa', Likax's claws slid out involuntarily, and his eyes narrowed to slits. "Where have you heard that name?" His voice was deep, almost a growl, and a brief flash of fear came over me.
"Tell him, Carson," Javier motioned to me. Looking up into Likax's eyes with both confusion and panic, I stuttered to speak. "I-I… well…" Gulping, I collected my thoughts, and finally managed to get them out. "Last night, when I got the phone call… it wasn't a wrong number. It was someone on the other end that said 'They're close', and that I needed to tell you that Mujexa wants to meet."
Likax's breathing started to grow faster. "Carson…" He stared at me, as if trying to decide how to respond. "When were you planning on telling me this?"
I shook my head. "I-I'm not sure. I figured it would come up whenever we finally left here. I… I didn't want to upset you, Likax." I avoided looking directly at the bobcat, doing the best I could to try to keep my eyes from watering, without much luck.
Seeing how upset I was, Likax's face softened, and he placed a finger on my cheek, wiping away a tear. "It's okay, Carson. I understand what you were trying to do. It just… it throws a wrinkle in our plans, that's for sure."
The corners of his lips started to turn up in a wry smile, and I fought the urge to bury my face in his chest again. Sitting up, I climbed off of the bobcat's lap, and moved to sit on the other end of the couch. After composing myself, I asked, "So… is Mujexa someone we can trust? I mean, he did tell me on the phone that he was a friend…"
Likax chuckled a little, looking down at the floor as he did so. "Well, first of all, I doubt you actually talked to Mujexa himself. He would never send out a message or call somebody directly; he has people under him to do that."
After having sat in silence for a few minutes, Javier finally leaned forward again to speak. "Maybe it would help us to know who he actually is."
Likax turned to look at my roommate. "Remember when I told you that during the riots at the prison, a few other anthros escaped? Mujexa was one of them. He's a black-footed ferret, in his forties or fifties, very lean, and a little taller than I am-- I mean, I was…" He grinned sheepishly at this last remark. "Ironically, out of hundreds of anthros who had been unjustly imprisoned, he was probably the only one in the whole place who actually deserved to be locked away."
"Why?" I asked. "What'd he do?"
"You've heard of the Comradity?" Both Javier and I shook our heads. "Well, the quickest way to describe them would be some sort of cross between an anthro fraternity and the mafia. Comradites don't do anything overtly illegal, but they're involved in a lot of shady business. Mujexa runs the Comradity in the southeastern US; he only answers to the First Comrade, who runs the entire organization. Now that Mujexa is out of prison, he's probably already back in Atlanta, where the Comoradity has a very large presence. But can we trust him?" Likax considered this question for only a moment. "I'll say this about him: he's a pretty interesting guy, very intelligent and quick-witted, and extraordinarily charming. But from what I've seen, the way he operated in prison and worked the system, and how he treated people who got in his way, intentionally or otherwise… well, let's just say I'd trust him only as much as I absolutely had to."
Javier nodded, and I leaned back against the couch, absorbing all this information in. A quasi-crime boss didn't sound like the sort of character I necessarily wanted to be associated with; still, he was our only real lead so far, and I knew that Likax and I couldn't handle the police (or his growing situation) for very long on our own. Whatever we decided, whatever route we chose, I knew that I'd have to watch Likax's back, and trust that the bobcat was doing the same for me.
Finally, Javier stood up and started talking as he paced the room. "Okay, so we know what we're up against, and we know what our options are. Now, we just need to form a master plan."
Likax nodded. "I guess you're right. What did you have in mind?"
Spinning around with a determined look in his eye, Javier alternated between looking at Likax and at me. "The way I see it," he said, "you can do one of two things. Your first option is to head back home." Likax's head gave a slight jerk as he heard it, a little surprised at the suggestion. Javier continued speaking quietly, looking at the bobcat with a quiet expression. "If you know enough people there, they might be able to protect you. Your friends and family could-"
"No way." Likax interrupted with a flat-out refusal, not even bothering to let him finish. "I'm not going to put them at risk." I noticed the bobcat's grip tighten a little bit, the couch creaking under his hands. "I've already caused them enough trouble. I had enough qualms with just letting my friends come to my rallies, knowing they might get in trouble, too. I'm lucky they only arrested me and nobody else. If I do anything more serious than that..."
"Right, then. You've probably made your mind up, but I have to ask anyways." Javier's voice was still a bit cool as he spoke, and though I knew he was just trying to make certain, it was clear that Likax was getting a little riled up by him. "You sure this isn't an option?"
"I said no!" His voice had risen to what seemed like a snarl, and though he was doing his best to keep himself calm, he was visibly tense. "Even assuming I know anybody who could somehow help against an armed group, I'm not going to cause any more trouble for them! It's already bad enough for me and for you guys, but I really... I wouldn't be able to stand willingly dragging any more of them into this."
Javier nodded quietly. "Thought so. Something else you might want to keep in mind..." His voice seemed a little unsteady from Likax's outburst, but he tried his best to continue on. "In a situation like this, don't forget you're already considered a criminal." Likax's fur shifted up, bristling visibly as he heard Javier say it so bluntly. "You've escaped prison now, so anybody you stay with is technically a criminal too. If what you've told us is accurate, the last thing we need to do is give them any more opportunities to go after anthros. Worst case, you'd have an open war on your hands, and I don't see that being your goal." He sighed as he sat back, looking up at the ceiling. "Right now, I just wanted to make sure you understood the implications."
"You could've just asked..." My voice was a little quiet; I was a bit afraid to speak up. However, Likax seemed too distracted glaring at Javier to respond.
"Sorry, Likax. But if the last few hours haven't made it sink in, me 'just asking' wouldn't, either." Javier shook his head quietly as he thought. "Unfortunately, that means the other option..."
"Going after Mujexa." Likax's eyes seemed to sharpen as he glanced around, shaking his head. "I don't like it."
My voice was shaking as I spoke, turning up to try to look at Likax's face. "A-are you sure it's worth the risk? It doesn't sound very..."
"It took him all of a few hours to get someone to contact you, right?" Likax's face seemed to show a twinge of fear as he looked down at me. "If he already knows that much, he's probably got someone watching us. If we don't go looking for him, it's only a matter of time before he tries to drag me somewhere the hard way. Right now..."
"It'd be easier to find him and cooperate, rather than wait for him to start causing trouble for you." Javier shook his head quietly as he spoke. "You'd think I could manage to dig up some information if he was really as important as you say, but I haven't found anything on him yet. Either he's been lying to everybody while he's in prison, or he's good at hiding himself. If it's the second, that's something that would definitely come in handy. But if it's the first..."
"I know. I wouldn't put it past him. The problem is, he's the only real option I can think of. I just... I still don't like it. I just got out of prison. But he definitely had someone watching, if he found about your number this fast. He's probably got everything he bragged about. It's just... creepy to think about being watched like that. And, it means that things are probably going to get worse for you, if he already knows about you..." His gaze returned to the ground as he seemed distracted by the thought.
I swallowed as I moved a little closer. He certainly seemed to have a lot on his mind, but I wasn't going to let him keep on worrying. "Likax... Even if it's risky, I'm coming with you, okay? So please, don't worry about me. Just do what you have to." I managed to give him a weak smile, and when he turned his face up to look at me, he had a small one on as well.
"Yeah... I know."
"Before you two get too distracted," Javier interrupted, "I'd like to remind you that even if you plan on going after this guy, you'll want to figure out what to do when you get there. Do you really think some underground boss is going to just let you sit around? You do realize the implications of a giant anthro going to shady places to ask for help, right? Somehow, I don't think you'll be getting assistance for free, and I'm fairly sure they could think of a few things for you to... 'help' them with."
Likax seemed to wince a little at the idea. "Yeah... I know. Look, I don't like that idea of owing him. I mean, I really don't like it. But right now, it's better than nothing. Maybe some other opportunity will show up along the way, but right now, we don't have a better choice."
"I... I guess we know what we're doing, then." I gave Likax a small nod as I held tight against his hand, finally feeling it shifting before he got a grip on mine.
"You two are still missing something obvious." Javier sighed, his hand pressed on top of his hair as he looked at the ground. "Do you even know where you're going? Carson, while you were on the phone, did he give you any directions? Contact method? Any real way of finding him?"
I felt Likax and Javier both looking at me expectantly. I grew a little worried as I turned to Likax, my hand letting go to hold on against my seat. "He said that you would know where to find him." Likax seemed to have a small look of surprise on his face, closing his eyes as he tried to think. "Y-you don't know?"
Likax shook his head as he looked at me. "Nothing too concrete. I mean, we didn't really talk too much while I was in prison. He's not the kind of person you really want to blab to. He... doesn't forget things that might come in handy, and in prison, that's... pretty much anything. He did talk to me once or twice, so I have a few hints, but he was always rather vague." Likax grunted and closed his eyes, trying to think. Neither Javier or I felt like interrupting his silence, so it was a minute before he finally spoke. "I think we'd better head to Atlanta. It's the only real certain place I know of that's connected to him."
"And then what? You wander around until he finds you?" Javier seemed a little jumpy as he tried to think things through. "You do realize that there's no guarantee he'd spot you before the police did?"
"It shouldn't be that bad..." Likax swallowed and spoke. "We don't have too many options, and getting out of here would be a good start. And, it's a bit of a long shot, but there's still some chance we'll manage it."
"Still some chance? That's... This isn't just some small thing you can do on a moment's notice, you know!" Javier's voice rose as he spoke, rising from his chair and fidgeting a bit. "I'm... I'm doing my best to make sure that you two will be alright, and you're not exactly giving me a lot to work with, here! I mean, it's at least a four or five hour drive, and by then you might not even fit into the car that well! Not to mention the fact that you'd be seen... And if you tried by foot, that's easily-"
"Javier, calm down. We know that. There's not too much we can do to help it, okay?" My voice was a bit difficult to hear over the sound of Likax's quiet growl, or over Javier's rather harsh breathing.
"He mentioned a shelter near the edge of town," Likax finally said. "We can look for that."
“Near the edge of town?" Javier looked at Likax questioningly, then rolled his eyes. “Well, for your sake I hope you guys will end up getting more specific directions than that. Atlanta’s a pretty big city, you know.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “it is... But I'm confident we will be able to find what we're searching for.” Looking up at Likax, my soft smile became a strong, confident stare. At first, Likax looked unsure of my response, but my confidence seemed to be contagious, and he quickly had a determined expression as well. I didn't quite know where I had found this inner confidence, but it gave me a whole new exhilarated feeling. My bobcat and I were going to make it together-- I was sure of it.
“Fine,” Javier finally turned his back to us and sighed. “Whatever. I just hope you’re ready for what you’re getting yourselves into.”
I exchanged a quick glance with Likax, then jumped up from his lap and walked over to Javier, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Javier, I know you're worried. Don't get me wrong; I'm worried too. But I just have a feeling that this whole mess is going to work itself out somehow. Don't ask me why I have this feeling, I just do."
He turned around to face me again, and I could tell he was fighting back tears, a struggle I too suddenly felt come over me. "You're crazy, you know that?" he asked. For a second, I stayed silent, not quite knowing how to respond, but then Javier began to laugh softly. "Both of you. You're completely insane." He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around me, embracing us tightly, continuing to speak as he did. "I know that nothing I can say will be able to change your mind; you're set in what you plan to do. I can't say that I agree with your course of action, but I know that you're doing what you think is best, and I respect that."
The tears began to flow from my eyes, and I knew that it was useless to hold them back. "Thank you, Javier," I said as I hugged him tightly in return. "I can't begin to repay you for all that you've done for me-- and for us."
Javier broke the hug, and smiled at me, wiping the tears from his eyes as he did. "So is it official, now?" he said, looking back and forth between me and the large bobcat on the couch. "Are you guys an 'us'?"
Feeling my heart skip a beat, I glanced back towards Likax, who seemed to be as hesitant as I was. "Uhh, well…" I said, rubbing my hand on my neck, attempting to stall.
"Never mind," Javier said, "it's not important. What is important is what you two are going to do." He pulled out his cell phone, checking the time on the screen. "It's now only five and a half hours until sunrise; if you leave now, you might be able to make it to Atlanta before then."
"Leave now?" As Javier said this, I felt the entire day and night suddenly catch up with me. It was late; I needed to sleep before I got near the wheel of a car. "Uh, Javier… I think that it's not a good idea for me to drive before morning. I'm… I'm just too tired."
Javier's face began to grow worried again. "But what if someone shows up to the house by then, or is tracking you during the daytime on your way down? Besides, who's to say that in the morning Likax won't be too big for the car?"
"Well…" Javier had a good point, but I was too tired to think things through. I just needed some sleep, to lay my head down on a pillow, and--
"I'll drive." Both of us turned our heads to Likax breaking his silence. He rose to his feet, still with that spark of determination from before, but now, at his full height, the bobcat seemed even more sure of himself.
"What?!" Javier seemed to not like this idea at all. "When was the last time you've driven a car? Do you even know how?"
"Yes, I do," Likax simply nodded in response.
"But," I sputtered, "you have to be even more tired than I am! I mean, you practically died and came back to life today, not to mention having spent the last few days on the run."
Shaking his head, I saw the corners of the bobcat's mouth turn upwards slightly. "Actually, I feel full of energy. I don't think I would be able to sleep even if I tried." Turning towards the door, he picked up the bag that Javier had set aside, and motioned for us to follow him. "So, unless either of you have a better idea…"
I stared at Likax for a few seconds, unsure of whether his plan was a wise one. There were just too many questions: how many years had it been since he last drove, did he even have a driver's license (though I quickly realized that this would be a moot point, since any policeman who tried to pull us over would have much greater concerns), and would he even be able to drive comfortably at his size? But I remembered that if the two of us were going to make it through this together, we each had to trust the other. And if Likax said he was able to drive… well, then so be it.
"All right," I said. "We'll leave now." I turned to look at my roommate one more time, possibly the last time I'd ever see him, I realized. I could tell that he was dying to stop me from going, to keep me from embarking on this fool-hearted quest, but he refrained from interfering. I gave him another final hug, my eyes tearing up again. "Goodbye, Javier. Thank you for everything."
He sniffed a bit, returning the hug. "Stay safe, both of you. And try to get word to me however you can, whenever you can-- as long as it's safe."
"We'll do that," Likax said, turning around to wave goodbye to Javier. "Thank you for saving my life and taking such good care of me tonight. I promise that I'll find some way to repay it-- someday."
Javier closed his eyes and bowed his head down, biting his lip slightly. "You're welcome, Likax," he finally said. "It was nice to meet you."
With that, Likax and I headed out of the door towards my car. I climbed in the passenger seat while Likax squeezed into the driver's seat. It was tight for sure, and he had to adjust the seat controls all the way back and down, but he managed to barely fit. I just hoped that any more growth spurts would wait until the two of us got safely down to Georgia.
"All right, then," I said as I handed him the keys, which he put into the ignition. "Here goes nothing."
Smiling, he turned to me and gave me a quick kiss on the top of my head. "It's your last chance to back out," he said, a sparkle in his eye.
"No way," I grinned back. "You're stuck with me. Now let's get going."
The car pulled out of the driveway, and the two of us were headed on our way. I quickly gave Likax directions to I-75, which, from there, would be a straight five hours drive to Atlanta. Before I even got to the interstate, though, my exhaustion had gotten the best of me, and I started to snooze in my seat.
Just before I drifted off, I realized that my head had slumped a little to my left, and was resting on Likax's shoulder. His fur felt soft to the touch, and the warmth of his broad muscles soothed my tired head. Despite everything that had happened during this crazy day, I wouldn't have wanted it to end any other way than this.