They walked across the sand for three days, and it was every bit as exhausting as Gordon remembered it. Luckily, the skids he'd put on the travois worked wonderfully, so at least there was one bright spot in the days. Tristan tried to get the rabbit to feel proud of his invention, but it didn't make any difference. Gordon was inconsolable, and would absolutely not talk about anything.
Once back on hard ground - for awhile anyway - Tristan had an idea that he thought might actually work. "Hey, Taylor..." he whispered so that the rabbit, up ahead, wouldn't be able to hear.
"Go walk up beside Gordon. Hold his hand."
"You heard me, Tay. Go take Gordon's hand. It'll make him feel better."
"Why don't you go hold his hand?"
"Because I'm too old, Tay. He'd think the wrong thing. He won't think that if you do it."
"Because I'm a kid..."
"Yes, Tay. Exactly. Look, do ya want to make the bunny-man feel better or not? You can, and I can't. Yes, it's because you're so young - I'm sorry, but you are. Anyway, it's not just that, Tay... it's just... it's... it's because of the way you are, Taylor. If it were me up there, I know it'd make me feel better, okay? C'mon... hold his hand and talk to him."
"What do I talk about?"
"The weather. Ask him how long till we get there. It doesn't matter - just get him talking. I imagine he'll take over once he's ready. So you'll do it? As a favor to me?"
"I'll do it, Tris. I hate being a kid, though."
"Well, tell him that, then."
"I will." He jogged ahead to Gordon's side, still a little angry about the whole "kid" issue. It was so unfair! All he wanted was to be 'one of the guys', but no, he'd never be that. He was the lamb. Always, always the lamb.
He took Gordon's free hand - the other one had his staff - in his own, but didn't say anything right away.
Gordon looked down at Taylor a little awkwardly. It felt kind of weird holding the kid's hand like that... but what the hell. Taylor was weird to start with. He shouldn't be so surprised. And anyway... it was kind of... nice. He knew that Tristan must be back there watching him - that felt a little weird too... Then again, the wolf knew that Gordon didn't 'like' Taylor 'that way', and since Tristan wasn't saying anything, he guessed it was okay for him to be holding his partner's hand.
Gordon sighed. Lucky fucking wolf. Gordon had been so close to having a partner that he could almost touch it. Almost - but not quite. Best stop thinking about it...
"Everything all right, Taylor?" he asked.
"I guess. How much longer to Civilization?"
"Uhm... couple to three months. Looks like we'll get there right about mid-summer. You excited?"
"Kind of. Kind of a-scared, too. I wish The Lady was still with us."
"Me too, Taylor. She was old, though. And she knew it was gonna be hard. At least she died on the road, doing what she'd been wanting to do forever, and not in bed at home. Me, I wanna go down fighting. Y'know, against the odds, no hope in sight, just me and as many of my enemy I can manage to kill before they get me. That's how I wanna die."
"You're one screwed-up rabbit, Gordon."
"Tristan told me to come up here, y'know... Told me to hold your hand and talk to you."
That figured. Gordon felt a momentary pang of anger at the wolf, trying to manipulate him like that, but it soon faded. It had worked, after all. "I see. Well, I'll have to thank him later then. And... you too, I guess."
"He said that he couldn't do it himself because you'd think the wrong thing. What'd he mean by that?"
Gordon laughed, "Never mind, Taylor... Gods... He was right, though. Your wolf is pretty smart about some things."
"He said you wouldn't think that if I did it 'cuz I'm just a kid. When am I gonna stop being a kid, Gordon?"
"Taylor - there's nothing wrong with being a kid! You gotta get over that... I mean, sure, you're in kind of a tough situation - for a kid - what with Tristan for a partner and going on this trip and everything... but you should enjoy being a kid while you can! It ain't gonna last long! I know it probably seems like it's forever, to you... But, see, that's just because-"
Gordon talked to him for another four hours. Without ever letting go of the lamb's hand.
Teesah headed north, with no particular destination in mind. It wasn't important that she be anywhere. She had no appointments. She'd vaguely considered the notion of going home - it would take her a month to get there - but she'd soon put that thought aside. When someone returned from a walkabout, they were expected to share their Discoveries with the rest of the village. What the hell was she going to say?
No - she couldn't go home.
It was going to start getting warm in the Desert as summer approached, so she'd better turn west to the mountains soon. If she kept going for a week or so, she could skirt the north end of the dunes, and not have to walk across the sand. It was as good a plan as any. Even if it did seem kind of... pointless.
Her walkabout seemed pointless. Her life seemed pointless. She seemed pointless...
Teesah tried very hard not to wonder why she felt that way. She'd made up her mind - in a hurry, and without thinking about it - when she'd told Gordon 'no'. Now she would stick with that decision. Because... well, because it had been the correct one. No children with Gordon. A simple fact. No reason to question anything. Her unwillingness to think about her own decisions was not a trait peculiar to cougars, or cats, or even predators. It was just that she was a Person, and that's how People were. And she was a stubborn person, at that.
So she didn't think about it. On her sixth day, she finally turned west - she was running out of food, for one thing. She was going to need to replenish her pack with some game from the mountains.
In an unguarded moment, as she walked, she idly wished she had someone to talk to. Just someone... preferably someone who spoke one of her languages, for a change. Not that it hadn't been fun learning Gordon's... Teesah sighed - there was that name again - and forced herself to think about something else.
It wasn't only Gordon who had changed. Something inside Teesah was different, too. It would still be weeks before she would figure that out, though.
Meanwhile, Tristan, Taylor, and Gordon had finally come down off the sand, and stood facing the foothills of the Western Range. The last leg of their journey, the last obstacle they would have to cross. They would get there the next day, and a few days after that, when they'd be up in the cooler air, they'd find the Western Base Camp. There, they'd stop for while to rebuild their supply of food, as well as refresh their tired muscles and aching feet.
Gordon was in somewhat better spirits now - talking with Taylor had worked wonders on him - not to mention holding the boy's hand. It was almost funny how that worked. Just like the damn wolf had thought it would, too. Even though Gordon was now even more of a pessimist than he had been before, he still had to admit that he felt better. There just weren't going to be any other people in his life, other than a "friend" here and there - and they would move on, just as Gordon himself would. That was how he'd always imagined his life would be anyway. It was just that - for that one brief moment - he had thought that maybe...
Nah. Never mind.
They arrived at the Western Base without further incident, and it was time to begin stashing and un-stashing things. 23 years ago, Gordon and the Lady had been here, and before they'd left, they'd hidden a few things in various places around the cabin. "Civilization money", for one. Clothes, for another. Other caches contained things they were going to need to cure meat and hide, tools in case Gordon needed to repair anything, even supplies for fixing up the shack for the next time it would be used. Unlike the Eastern Base, or The Lady's own home, this shack was covered with shingles of wood, and one of the caches contained hundreds more shingles for repairs.
So after a couple of days of taking it easy and eating up the rest of the food they had on hand, which they were getting pretty tired of by now, the work started.
As usual, Tristan was detailed to hunt. Gordon went to work digging up caches, and preparing the things he'd need to cure and smoke whatever the wolf came back with - hides included. Taylor gathered. It was early summer, so there was no fruit on the trees yet - but there were berries. Raspberries and blue-berries and elderberries. Even Tristan developed a taste for berries. Taylor developed a taste for shingles - for drawing on them with charcoal from the fire. It wasn't the best media, and the quality of the charcoal was just awful, but it was better than nothing.
They stayed there for three weeks. The ground was too rough for their travois now, and there was no snow for a sled to ride upon, so they would have to pack their supplies on their backs. But then, in the mountains, at this time of year, and with abundant water around, they didn't need to pack as much anyway. Most of the wine-skins had been buried. They could even build fires every night, now. Compared to the Desert or the Glacier, the Western Range in summer was a cornucopia of endless food, for both predator and prey.
When they left, it was August. Teesah was 400 miles away at the time - and was about to have a revelation.
She'd been hunting in the morning. Animal-rabbits were plentiful here - but being rabbits, they preferred to stick to the brush. So she'd see them, from time to time, but every time she'd try to bring up her bow, the lower end would get caught in a bramble or bush or some damn thing - it was just too long to use in thick cover! If only it were shorter, like the one Gordon had made...
There it was again. Gordon. For someone she'd known such a short time, why did his name keep popping up? It was frustrating. She put him - and his short bow - out of her mind, and moved off into more open country. She wouldn't be likely to see as much game, but at least when she did, she'd be able to shoot at it! Besides... she wasn't really in the mood for killing rabbits. Just because.
That evening, as she was roasting a ground-hog over the fire and waxing her bowstring, she felt better than she had in ages. It had been a good day, a beautiful day, and now it was a beautiful night. The crickets were chirping, the stars were shining, she had food, water... everything was just the way she liked it. She was self-sufficient. She overcame obstacles by herself, with her own mettle. She made her own way, she answered to no one, and no one depended on her. She was Queen of all she surveyed, and it felt good to be the Queen.
Mind you - sometimes it'd be nice to have someone with which to share moments like this...
And she knew just who'd appreciate it as much as she did, too.
But - she said to herself for the millionth time - Gordon would never give her kids. When she settled down and raised a family, she'd need someone who could-
A thought voiced itself in her mind almost in words, but not quite - just when, exactly, did she plan on settling down and raising a family?
(Translated) I mean, I DO intend to do, that... Right? She looked around her private fire, as if someone might appear who would agree with her, back her up, tell her she'd done the right thing, and for the right reasons. But there was no one. She was going to have to answer for herself.
(Translated) "No. I don't," she said out loud. After a pause she added, "And I never have."
FUCK! That had been the backbone of every thought she'd had about her rabbit for the past month! Ever since- Wait. What? Her rabbit?
(Translated) Whoa, hold on, wait a minute, back up a little... Okay - so maybe the kids thing isn't such a big deal as I thought it was. He's still a rabbit. Prey. Even if he IS a warrior - and one who might even take ME down, given the chance... Could I really tell everyone in the Village that my partner is a rabbit? That I sex with a rabbit?
Teesah did not consider herself a sexual person. Oh, sure, she'd done it - many times, for various reasons, and it was... okay... but she didn't understand why everyone made such a big deal about it. Ever the curious one - moreso than most cats, even - she'd gone so far as to have sex with men of other species: a fox once, a bear. It didn't really make much difference.
But a prey species? Someone who she should be killing and eating? Not that her people did that as a matter of course – a village of nothing but cougars, they had no notions of any 'Balance' that needed to be maintained - but they were nonetheless still very aware of their nature as predatory cats. They could feel the desire. She could feel the desire.
That was what she felt... wasn't it?
Well, whatever. She put that train of thought aside.
The question was: could she really go back to her People and say that she'd Discovered this odd rabbit, and that he was now her partner? A lot of the others would probably give Gordon a hard time. They'd probably want to fight him, prove that they were better than him.
She smiled to herself as she thought about that. Because Gordon... Gordon would just love that, wouldn't he... He would. Teesah could imagine him surrounded by a circle of slobbering cougars, weaponless and naked, and saying "Well, come on then, ya fuckin' felines! Who's next? Who wants a piece of the bunny-man? Come ON already!"
It wouldn't take long for her rabbit to earn their respect, no doubt about that.
Her rabbit. Why did she keep thinking that way? Was it that thing he'd done with his eyes during their first and only fight? She'd felt it then, and stronger than anything she'd ever felt before. He was hers. For awhile. Would he do that again if she were to fight him again? It would only be for educational purposes next time of course – Gordon was her friend now. At least her friend. The word – or feeling – didn't seem to fit right, though.
Everyone would love Gordon, eventually. How could they not? Old Lahso, the bow-maker, sure would. And General Veetax, too, would probably want Gordon to give training in that odd style of his. Everyone would love him!
She... would love... him. That was the word – or feeling – that fit. That was her revelation.
Teesah had been trying to forget everything she knew about Gordon for a month. Now, staring into her campfire - the ground-hog carcass burning to a crisp - she tried to remember as much as she could. They were going to someplace called Civilization. But Gordon had hinted that he didn't intend to live there, hadn't he? She tried to remember everything he'd ever said. But the image that kept popping into hear head was the look on his face when she'd told him 'no'.
For the first 17 days, Tristan, Taylor, and Gordon followed the map The Lady had given them. They had trail-blaze markers to go by, just as before when in the mountains. They passed deep into the range that way, following a stream that flowed East.
But on day 18, a new thing happened - something they hadn't expected. They ran into a trail.
Not a big trail, and not terribly well-traveled, either. More like an over-grown cow-path. But, it was heading in roughly the right direction, so they decided to follow it. The hiked onward single-file.
Over the next few days, it got a little bigger, and they saw a couple of side-trails head off on either side. People had been here. Often. Nothing on the map indicated the presence of people... and Gordon – who had been here before, over two decades ago – certainly didn't remember meeting anyone at all while in the mountains.
But two decades can be a long time. And in another few days, the trail turned into a road. All at once, and just like that. They stepped up onto it.
It was a dirt road, yes – but it was still a road. There were even wagon-wheel tracks in it. People were coming this far East now? Enough of them to warrant building a road? Gordon could hardly believe it.
So a mile later - when they came around a curve and saw The End of the Road Tavern & Trading-Post – he needed a drink.
"All right – guys?" Gordon began, "We don't know what we're in for, here. We're still a long ways from Civilization – so don't count on anyone understanding anything about us."
"You mean 'us' – as in me and Tay, don'tcha..." Tristan said, on the defensive again.
"No, wolf-boy – I don't mean just that, although that's a part of it, yeah. So cool it with the nosing and such. But I also mean 'us' as a group composed of two prey and one predator. A lot of people don't like that – it's not just your old Town."
"Maybe we should just wait while you check it out..." Taylor said.
"Frankly, Tay," the rabbit replied, "I'd rather just find out what kind of people were dealing with all in one shot. We don't really need to stop here, if they're idiots. See what I mean? We can just keep going."
That seemed reasonable to both Taylor and Tristan, so they all went in. The first thing that caught their eye was a large sign hanging over the bar - "No Predation On These Premises – Strictly Enforced". So that was a good sign, so to speak. After milling about for awhile and studying a map on the wall - "You Are Here" was denoted with a red thumb-tack on the extreme eastern edge – the owner came into the otherwise deserted tavern. They all gawked at him.
He seemed used to it,though, "Polar bear, from up north. Way up north. Help you fellas?"
He also seemed completely non-plussed by seeing a wolf, a rabbit, and a lamb all standing together in a group. So far so good.
Gordon ordered them all soft-drinks and proceeded to start grilling the bear. His name was Sam. He was from Civilization – but moved out here to get away from it. Polar bears were a solitary lot, he said. He'd had the Tavern for less than three months – it wasn't even finished yet. Civilization had grown a lot in the last twenty years – all of it to the east, because the south was too swampy, the north was too hilly, and the west, of course, was the Great Ocean. The road would no doubt be lengthened someday – but probably not for at least another ten years. Most of the traffic was either hunters, derelicts, or adventurers – and he seldom saw the adventurers twice. Or the derelicts. Law-enforcement was a do-it-yourself affair this far out.
"Y'all wanna order something to eat? I got carnivore and herbivore menus..."
They did. Although after Gordon found out how much it was going to cost, he knew they wouldn't be doing it again. Prices had gone up since he'd been there last.
"Headed for the city, then? 'Fraid you missed the stage yesterday – won't be back for another ten days, either.
"A... a stage? Stage-coach?" Gordon stammered.
"Yep. Gonna stay and wait for it? You'll need rooms, then. And tickets. How old's the wolf?"
"Seventeen," Tristan said, his mouth full of roasted venison.
"One adult and two kids, then. Be $150. Add nine nights at $30 per night, and-"
Gordon cut him off, "We don't have that kind of money, Sam. So I think we'll just eat and be on-"
Now the bear cut Gordon off, "Be innerested in working it off? You look like a big, strong rabbit... and I can find something for the wolf to do, for sure. Between the two of ya, I'd be willin' to put ya up for nine days and pay for your tickets. I warn ya, though: I do mean 'work' – and sun-up to sun-down, too..."
"What about me?!" Poor Taylor was being left out again.
"Yer a little on the young side to-"
"I can cook, I can clean, I can... go get stuff..."
"CLARA!" the bear hollered, shockingly loud. Another all-white bear appeared at the kitchen-door.
"Clara – meet... uh..."
"Taylor", Taylor said.
"Meet Taylor, your new house-boy until the next stage."
"Come with me, young man," she said, "And get rid of that weapon. You won't be needing it in the kitchen."
That didn't take long. Gordon managed to get them two rooms: one for him, one for the boys. The bear didn't say anything about that, although he did give Gordon an odd look for a second. The rabbit tensed, awaiting the inevitable questions, but they never came. Maybe he just didn't want to give them two rooms, was all.
They started working that very afternoon.
"Hunting. It figures," Tristan said when he learned what his job would consist of.
"Heh – you know how predators love meat," the rabbit said, ribbing him, "Me, I'm glad to get away from it for a change. Never could learn to like it. It even feels disgusting, just chewing on it."
"I wouldn't know. So you're building another smoke-house... That must be getting kind of old for you, too." Gordon had built one for The Lady, and rebuilt the smoke-houses at both Eastern and Western Bases.
"So I should be good at it. Anyway, we'll be in Civilization in less than two weeks, so it's worth it. See ya at dinner, wolf-boy."
"Keep an eye on Taylor, will ya? I don't like him running around without that sword..."
"Ain't nuthin' gonna happen to 'im while I'm around, Tris."
Tristan knew that was true, but it made him wonder – once they got to Civilization, Gordon probably wouldn't be 'around' any more. What was he supposed to do then?
Well, like everything else on this trip – he'd find out when he got there.
Things went pretty well; Sam was more than satisfied with their work, and the travelers were happy with their room and board - and the promise of tickets. Sam the polar bear seemed like a decent enough man, although Gordon did notice him giving Tristan and Taylor odd glances from time to time. The boys weren't nosing or kissing, but they were a little obvious sometimes.
"So Gordon," Sam asked one day, coming out to see how the smoke-house was coming along. At the rate Tristan was bringing back game, he was going to need it soon. "Those other two – the wolf and the lamb. What's your connection with them, if ya don't mind sayin'..." Sam smelled something being hidden from him. There was usually a reason people hid things. Because they were usually bad.
"Friend, teacher, and mentor," Gordon said. It was a prepared answer. He'd been expecting this conversation, in one form or another, for awhile now.
"Ah. They seem almost like brothers – unusually close, I mean. Don't usually see that in kids that far apart in age. 'Specially cross-chain."
"Food-chain, Gordon. Predator and prey."
Might as well get it over with, Gordon thought. "They're partners, Sam."
The bear thought about that. He'd wondered... It was certainly unusual – most teenagers avoid younger kids like the plague. This one had hooked up with one? Odd – but not unthinkable. Besides, their age-difference would disappear as they got older. Five years is a lot when you're 17. Considerably less by 25. At 40, it's barely noticeable. In fact, Clara was seven years younger than Sam himself. If he'd met her when he was 17...
But then – these weren't adults yet, either of 'em. They were probably just doing it for attention – he'd seen behavior like that before. He'd been assistant principal at a grade-school, back in the city. He'd seen a lot of things like that. That was why he'd moved out here in the first place - Clara was pregnant.
But, unlike the kids at his school, these two were none of his business, and he needn't get involved. Not his problem. He'd still keep an eye on the rabbit. Ya never know.
"Ah. That explains a lot, then. You're sure you got enough lumber for the roof? It looks like yer runnin' out there..."
Other customers came into the Tavern now and again, usually traders looking to barter for supplies. Sometimes hunters selling hides. Very few people came with actual money – but when they did, Sam took advantage of it. For such a frontier outpost, it was remarkably peaceful. Sam's sheer size probably had a lot to do with that.
That peace was broken the next day when two badgers came in and began ordering beers. It was a bad combination – badgers and beer – but they were paying cash, so Sam was happy to get it. He checked to make sure his baseball-bat was still hidden under the bar.
Because he happened to be in Sam's line-of-sight and not busy at the time, Taylor ended up in the role of waiter and host.
The badgers got a kick out of that, calling him "honey" and "babe" whenever they got a chance, even patting his butt as he went by. All the lamb could really do was glare at them – but that only made the badgers laugh all the more.
At dinner-time, they were still there, and well-buzzed by then. Tristan and Gordon came in to eat, as well. Sam was behind the bar, and Taylor was serving, as he had been since noon.
As Taylor walked by the badger's table, on his way to talk to Tristan, one of the badgers stuck out his leg and tripped him. Luckily the boy wasn't carrying anything.
"Oops! Watch yer step there, babe!" the offending badger said, bursting into laughter.
"You did that on purpose!"
"Not my fault you're not watching your step, miss... oughta be more careful."
Tristan got up from his chair – he'd seen enough. Gordon made no move to stop him, and Sam got his bat ready, setting it where he'd be able to get to it fast. "Take it outside, Tristan," he said firmly.
As the wolf went around the table to confront the man who'd tripped Taylor, the other one stuck his leg out, hoping to do the same thing to Tristan.
Just like in Jr. High, Tristan thought. He'd expected that. The badger with his leg out was surprised, therefore, when the wolf's leg - after catching on his own - just continued up, and up, and up, until both the badger and his chair toppled over backwards.
Tristan knew how badgers were, just as Sam did. He only glanced at the one he'd intended to confront and continued out the door. Both the badgers got up – one from the floor, one from his chair – and followed him. As did everyone else, including Sam with his bat.
Badgers are mean. And strong. And fast. Animal-badgers also have formidable claws, but these weren't animals, and they'd lost those. They still had quite scary-looking teeth, though, which they proceeded to bare at Tristan as they circled him outside in the dirt road.
"Tristan! Don't!" Taylor yelled. Those guys looked dangerous...
"Aww – ain't that sweet. His girlfriend doesn't want her little wolf to get hurt... It just gets ya here, don't it, Karl..."
"Touches my heart, Brandon – it really does. You like to screw little girls do ya, pup?"
"I'm NOT a girl!" Taylor cried at the blatant humiliation.
Tristan let it go - the taunting, the circling, the watchers... even Taylor's words. Instead, he studied his opponents. They were both right-handed. So they'd be right-footed, too. They were clawless, he already knew, but they'd be fast. And they'd hit hard. If they managed to connect. There was some question about that because their eyes weren't... right. They seldom seemed to point the same direction. And they were blinking a lot, too. They were drunk.
Tristan had never been drunk himself, but he'd seen others who were. When it came to fighting, there were good and bad things about drunks:
Good – they'd be clumsy and slow.
Bad – they weren't going to feel any pain, so they probably wouldn't stop until they were injured.
So be it.
He tuned in on them and waited for one to make a move, as Gordon had taught him.
When it came, both badgers made their moves at the same time. No surprise there – the one behind him would be trying to pin his arms, while the one in front went for a punch in the gut. Tristan's left foot came up and kicked behind at slightly less than waist-level – the badgers were stereotypically short – while one arm brushed aside the fist aimed at his stomach, and the fist on his other arm found purchase on his front-opponent's nose. It made a pleasingly squishy, crunching sound.
Will that stop him or just make him madder? The wolf wondered as he stepped around 'Karl', so that both the drunks would be in front of him.
'Karl' didn't seem interested in fighting anymore, with blood foaming from his nose, so now it was just him and 'Brandon' – who was still recovering from being kicked in the groin. Tristan waited, glancing at Gordon for approval. The rabbit nodded once – he was doing fine so far.
Sam the owner watched this exchange. As the adult of their group, the rabbit should have been trying to put a stop to this – but instead he was signaling to the wolf that he was doing a good job! Not that the damn badgers didn't deserve it... And not that the wolf appeared to need any help, at all...
In fact, what with Tristan's lack of so much as smirk, let alone a growl, and the way he was handling himself - "professionally" was the only word for it – the wolf kind of reminded Sam of his old days of-
Blood and Teeth! These people were "Old Guard" B&T! That's what Gordon had meant when he said he was the boys "teacher and mentor"! That's why he wasn't interfering! It all came together - two prey and one predator, as traveling companions, the way they worked together, the way they just seemed like honorable people – he was wondering why he felt that right away... Well... I'll be damned. I thought it was only big-wigs and hippies who actually practiced Old Guard anymore...
Sam relaxed his grip on his bat, leaning casually upon it. The young wolf wasn't going to need any help. He chuckled to himself. It was the badger who needed help. The poor bastard had no idea what he was facing. And facing while drunk, too! Oh, bad, bad idea, 'Brandon'... Sam kept his eyes on Tristan. This was likely to be over soon.
It was. The remaining badger – after he managed to straighten up again – charged at Tristan in his rage, and was met with the wolf's right foot at the bottom of his rib-cage.
The resultant 'snap' sound was also pleasing. 'Brandon' wouldn't be making any sudden movements for a couple of weeks now. Tristan went to the Tavern porch where the others were waiting, and hugged Taylor, picking him up off his feet as he did so.
The lamb was not impressed, "You shouldn't have done that, Tris. They were just jerks..."
"They were jerks to you. That's all I need."
"I don't need you to fight my fights for me..."
"Tay – yes you do. For now, okay? In a few years you'll probably be kicking my ass... Gimme a chance to be your hero while you still need one, all right?"
That was true. Sheep grew fast, and by the time Taylor turned sixteen, with or without training – he wouldn't need anyone to protect him anymore. "Okay, Tris."
"So... I'm your hero?"
Taylor giggled in his boyish way, "Yeah, Tristan – you're my hero. You'll always be my hero."
Sam cleared his throat – the two boys were just being sickeningly cute. Apparently it wasn't an act like he'd thought, after all. "Drinks on me, fellas. So Gordon – Old Guard B&T, eh? Why didn't you say so man?!"
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