Cyan trudged weakly across the ice, his breath turning into a mist in front of him. He had reached the gap between the ice and the lower pier and was struggling to get up. The Piermont was close, he just had to push himself a little farther. He tugged his inadequate clothes around him and tried to puff out his fur as he trudged forward.
The doctors would never have allowed this, of course. He snuck out of the facility by pretending Doctor Sonnerstein wanted him to build up strength again. The lad was confident he had slipped out unnoticed.
They were supposed to meet on the dance deck, but the lad was starting to wonder if he should turn back. There were over a hundred stairs to climb, and he doubted he would survive the trip if he had to get to the top. There was no reason they couldn’t meet inside the heavy structure instead. He hoped he beat her there.
He limped up the steps after crossing the yard. He felt the ice cold spray from the Piermonts gears and shivered. Next time he would insist on some place warm, without stairs, and reachable by tram.
He continued past the frozen rose fountains and crossed the threshold. The child was relieved to see the feline in a dapper blue suit waiting inside. He breathed heavily as he rested against the pillar. It was cold and uncomfortable, but a welcome respite nonetheless, “Hey Beryl…came as you asked… Was hard to sneak out…without the doctors and nurses stopping me…next time…no stairs.”
“They noticed. Trust me.” She looked him over calmly, making no offer to assist him. At least she had not made him climb all the stairs. “They are overworked this time of year. Lilith, added herself to the list of unconscious and sick children.”
Cyan would have to deal with the staff on his return, but this was the first time he learned what happened to Lilith, “Is that what happened after I released you?! What did she do?!”
“Followed your example,” Beryl responded with words that cut deeper than knives. “In any case, it is a problem for someone who is not me.”
Cyan did his best to ignore that comment, “So you wanted to talk?”
“We needed to talk or you would not have pushed yourself here too early,” Beryl gestured to his sorry state.
He shrugged in response, and took a seat. The metal was freezing, but he wrapped his arms around his legs and tried to sit up, “Can you explain why you hated me more than the others? She told me you wished more harm on me than any other.”
Beryl glared at him, her hetero-chromatic eyes taking on a purple tinge again, “Why? Why dear boy, I told you on two separate occasions what your orders made me do. Were you not paying attention?”
He remembered those talks. Beryl informed him how she had survived by betraying her friends and allies, and how it had forced her to make a deal with the violent Mr. Herding. “I remember, but I don’t understand why! I only ordered you to live! How did that make you hate me!?”
“But you are forgetting a few details,” she replied mockingly. She raised a single claw to illustrate her point, counting, “The first time you said you were sorry for thinking you could give me an order, but refused to take it away because you decided it would be good for me. The second time you scoffed and mocked me in Alley Cats.”
“I am sorry. I did not understand,” Cyan admitted despite her condescending tone. “I still think I don’t know everything.”
“Let me explain it slowly then,” Beryl leaned down over him, her teeth showing in her smile again. “You ordered me to not die and to do everything in my power to prevent it. Every waking moment of my existence since then had been consumed with protecting my life. Your order took away my ability to make rational decisions or take certain risks, unless I was unable to understand the dangers or my witch commanded it. For the first time in years, I feel like my thoughts are mostly my own.”
Mostly, Cyan wondered what influence was behind the purple tinge growing in his friends gaze. Was it Phaedra, or her. That was a concern for another time though, “I…I honestly didn’t realize that it would do that! I figured you’d still make rational decisions but reduce risk to yourself!”
“No little cub, I had to do whatever had the most probability of keeping me alive, regardless of what I wanted. And I still have a few things tied to my very being that dictate my actions, and feelings.”
“That is horrible!! I..I never meant for you to go through that. I was… I just saw you always taking huge risks regardless of the cost to you. And I… I just wanted you to take care of yourself for once. I never thought it would end up going like that.”
“Well, I did take care of myself in a sense. I got into the urchins heads when they pointed guns at me. They tried to fire, but I didn’t let them.” Cyan gaped, no one had told him that part. He also knew the urchins had put down rabid animals and fired on infected friends in the past. “So I took the choice from them. And that was just…recently.”
Beryl paused, the purple in her eyes returning to the usual heterochromatic state. “That was when…she told me Canergak was right about me. That was when I knew I had hit rock bottom.”
There was a long pause as Cyan nodded slowly, trying to process all of that, “You certainly haven’t been acting yourself or at least not what I was used to.”
She turned away from him and took a few steps towards the exit, “Well, don’t expect me to suddenly be able to do so now. Things are still what they are. But…I am happy that you set me free on your end. Don’t ever think I’m ungrateful for that.” She looked back at him with a sincere expression, but then turned away. “I guess that is all we had to say to each other…”
Cyan tried to think of something else as she retreated. He called out, “What is she?”
Beryl froze near the door. After a moment she gestured for him to join her. He stood up, limping closer with difficulty. “The less you know of her, the better. Forget you met her. She is trapped in the dream side anyways.”
“But she is how you got into their heads, isn’t it?” Cyan whispered back. “You never had that ability before. Not to this extent anyways.” Beryl was about to reply when a shout caught their attention.
“Oi!!” Tepic Harlequin was rushing up the street, and took the stairs two at a time in his haste.
Beryl turned to Cyan with amusement. “This your idea of cornering me?”
“Hey Tepic.” Cyan greeted warmly as he leaned against the doorframe.
“Oi, Cyan. Good yer here ter be an official witness o’ all this.” Tepic drew himself up, probably trying to look official. The cheetah cub tilted his head mouthing, ‘Witness?’
“Sorry this took so long ter get ter ya, but things went a bit wonky!” Tepic Harlequin reaches into his jacket as Beryl watched passively. The lad drew out what looked to be a furry sausage, tied up with a ribbon. “Here!”
Beryl took it carefully and looked back to him, “It’s still moving.”
“Aye! That’s Dr. Footmans cure-all fer sure. But it’s a scroll, on real vellum, it is!” Tepic beamed proudly and waited expectantly. Cyan could not help but notice the vellum seemed to be made of giant vole skin. Tepic must not realize you were supposed to take the fur off……or cut a square out of the skin…
Beryl sighed and unsealed the scroll and started to read. At first she seemed confused, and then suddenly seized up and yelped as she fell to her knees.
“Oh! You alright Beryl?” Tepic watched in concern, though Cyan had seen this before and was watching hopefully.
“Am….am I free?” Beryl clutched at her throat as if she couldn’t breathe now.
“Yep, we all voted on it, an’ those at didn’t abstained by non attendance.” Cyan figured Tepic would claim something like that. Getting all the urchins in one place was difficult enough. “So yeah, it now be the will o’ urchins all over. I’s made the scroll ter makes it all official like, i seen em in the Embassies.” Tepic spit into his hand and reached out, it was the proper way to do this after all. She looked at him, grimacing and then with a single paw took his hand. “As of the moment, yer is no longer the Adult Liaison, yer free!!”
Beryl squeezed the lads hand which made him give out a yelp of pain. She suddenly let out a roar that made Cyan jump as she pounced Tepic and wrapped her arms around him. Tepic gave a groan of pain as Cyan struggled to help him.
Tepic struggled to speak, “Agh…err….yer can….let…..go?”
“Shut up, Tepic!” Beryl screamed, but she sounded happy. “A little hug never hurts!!!”
“It do…when yer can’t….breathe!!” Tepic replied and Cyan stopped trying to help him and started to laugh. It hurt to laugh, but he couldn’t help it.
Beryl finally let Tepic go whose visible breaths came shallow and quick, “Phew! I reckons yer feelin’ a bit better now then?”
“Yes, thank you…that feels…much better.” She purred softly and looked between them, and then seemed surprised. “…I feel like I can also speak and act freely now….Oddly. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Errr….” Tepic looked to Cyan wondering what was going through their friends mind now. “Yer always speaks a bit oddly, Beryl….”
Beryl suddenly seemed to realize what happened, “Oh yes. Now that I’m not the liaison the urchin oath takes hold again….we’re family. I can say whatever I want. That’s a relief.” She looked at them apologetically. “I can only appear weak in front of family. It took me awhile to figure out mockery and snide comments were the best way to communicate without looking desperate or letting my head down.”
“Oh blimey… the oath….” Tepic slapped his forehead as if he had only now realized it. “Errrmmmm….. does yer need to move on from the urchin oath?”
Beryl shook her head and waved her paw, “Why would I want to? For now its letting me speak to you freely. Maybe another day?”
“Yer don’t have ter, it’s just …. well….. most people when they grows up, it sort of relaxes a bit, so’s they can live right… but i reckons yer might need somethin a bit more than just growin up….maybe yer just need someone ter give yer permission ter let it go?”
“Later.” Beryl slowly stood up and dusted herself off gently, “Much. Later. For now, I think I just want to appreciate what I have again.”
Cyan and Tepic talked with her for a short time, it was easier now that she didn’t feel compelled to be cruel to speak clearly, nor sarcastic to deny an action which had not been working either way. Eventually Tepic ran off on his rounds and Cyan began the long trudge back to the hospital. This time he took the route past Emerson’s and towards the park. There were safer places to sit.
He never made it back to the hospital. The clockworks saw to that.