Raven put his phone into his tuxedo jacket pocket and laid back in his chair.
LM lowered his book and watched Raven squiggle into a sleepable position. “You look uncomfortable. You should go home and sleep in your own bed.”
Raven sluggishly shook his head. “tired…sir…”
Capernaum appeared next to LM.
The half-fey frowned at the front cover of “Little Women”. The four March girls were wide-eyed matryoshka dolls all clustered together. Marmee and some older gentleman, who could have been Mr. March or Mr. Laurence or Professor Bhaer, were over-sized matryoshka that loomed menacingly behind the valiant sisters. “I don’t understand this. What does this mean? What is it supposed to represent?”
“LM.” Capernaum said gently.
“Well, look at it! There’s nothing, not a single scene or moment in this story, that merits a cover like this. I know. I’ve read it four times already.”
“LM, you and I need to talk.”
LM covered Jo’s oval-shaped mouth with his thumb.
“You said we’d talk after Jeff came back. He’s back.”
“I know.” The plastic dust cover crinkled as LM rubbed his thumb on it. “Can we save it for another time, another place, some other date?”
Capernaum didn’t reply.
“Because…because I know what I need to say. Whether I’m ready to say it or not doesn’t really matter.”
“If you aren’t ready—” Capernaum started to say.
LM shook his head. “You don’t understand. I will never be ready to let you go. You matter to me. I need you. I will always need you.” He focused on Giant Marmee, on the intricate flower detailing on her babushka. “But that isn’t fair. That isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense. I see you as my dearest friend, but what kind of friend am I to keep you here against your will?”
“It…isn’t against my will.” The falter in his voice spoke louder than his words.
“I know.” LM raised his head. “If I don’t do it now, I never will. I know I never will, even though such behavior doesn’t make sense.”
“LM. If you need me to stay—”
He hesitated a moment before shaking his head. “You don’t seem to understand. I need you to stay, but that is not what you need.” He held out his hands.
Capernaum took them. “LM—-”
“No. Don’t. You can go. I set you free.”
“If I leave you, where will you go?”
“Don’t worry. Either Raven or Jeff will take me in.” LM managed to smile. “That was the plan anyway, wasn’t it?”
Capernaum released his hands and hugged him.
LM closed his eyes and returned the hug. Memories flooded his mind.
He sat in the crowd and watched the vampire ringmaster put the young half-fey through a series of changes. “Turn into…turn into…turn into…turn into…” Capernaum frowned even though everyone else gasped and cheered. He was the only one who noticed the young boy’s fearful expression and posturing.
Capernaum found the ringmaster kneeling beside a wagon. He jumped to the most likely explanation and stormed over to him. “It’s been a while since I’ve punched anyone.” He cracked his knuckles. “I’m ready for this.” He marched over to the ringmaster, grabbed him by the front of his flashy coat, and punched him.
He hugged the small boy with the crooked, stiff wings. “You’ll always be safe with me.”
“So, the theory is if we inject this into the bones, particularly the thigh bones, the body will be able to better absorb the element and the element will become one with the subject.” Capernaum smiled at LM’s thoughtful expression. “That’s the theory. We haven’t had any luck yet.”
“But you’re going to keep trying?” LM asked.
“Absolutely! I know we’ll get it right. We just need to keep tweaking things.”
There was still smoke in the air. Or maybe it was all inside his lungs. Maybe his lungs were filthy black with the smoke. He wheezed as his eyesight dimmed. LM’s voice called to him in the fading of his light. “Antio…go…go…”
LM said something, but it was so hard to make it out. “LM. I..no regrets…rescu…”
The half-fey’s voice sound urgent and Capernaum understood why. “LM. not me. Antioch. I…happy…saved you.”
His voice grew more urgent and more distant. He couldn’t quite make out what LM was saying. “not…not..me…Antioch. Antio…”
Darkness fell like a blanket and it was soft. It was so warm.
And his breathing stopped.
Tears fell down LM’s face as Capernaum’s body rippled and lightened. It lost substance, but LM tried to hold on. “My friend. My only and dearest friend.” His arms closed in on each other as Capernaum disappeared. “Good-bye.”