She was no Jasmine

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8 of The Pathfinders Winning the election for mayor isn't all it's chalked up to be.

It's taken the better part of a year, but Vancouver is back on its feet. More of less. Tommy's been no small part of that success, but not everyone agrees with what he's been doing. Nasty letters are just the start of it. By the time things are finished this wolf is going to go toe-to-toe with the most insidious threat yet. And his greatest advantage will be worth nothing against this foe. English's journey takes one more, rocky, step to the east. Don't have a clue what's going on? Welcome to the hunt. Start with The Hunters. Great new cover curtsey of Diokhan Comments and critiques are welcome.

Chapter 8: She was no Jasmine

I was nearly dead on my feet when we made it to English's home an hour later. The lion was used to the walk, I wasn't.

"Welcome back, Mate." He smiled at me as I carried Rebecca up the steps to the front door. She'd fallen asleep about a kilometre back.

English's home was about as I remembered it. It was a slight shock for me to realize that I'd only been here twice before. Once when I'd tracked him to it shortly after being hired on at Storm Front, and once after getting drunk at West's party.

Last time there had still been some damage from the quake. The lion's fortunes had been doing well enough over the last half year to let him get the place fully repaired.

The building itself was a pure white Victorian style country house. It wasn't all that large, but its location here on the edge of town was prime. All the sides of the property were edged in forests. You could go to sleep here and feel like you were the only person in the whole world.

"Why don't you set the Lass up in the spare bedroom, Mate?" English waved me in after unlocking the door. "There should be plenty of room in there for the two of you."

Turning, the lion glanced at the two dozen dogs that had followed us from the city. He let out a long sigh. "And you buggers can do whatever it is you feel you need to." After a moment he added, "Just don't trample my garden! Most of those plants had to be imported from half way around the world!"

The inside of English's house was just as spotless as the outside. Everything was whitewashed and clean. I set Rebecca down on the soft sheets of the guest bed before turning to look out the window.

I could see the police dogs scouring bloody near literally every square inch of the property out there. They took their job seriously. There were few things I could count on, but the loyalty of the police dogs was guaranteed. I was no longer so sure as to the foundations of the police service, but the dogs themselves saw me as some twisted version of their alpha. I didn't have to worry about them directly.

Turning, I headed back downstairs towards where English sat in the kitchen. The first time I'd been here the pure white of the home had set me off. Now I knew English better.

There was little in the house to truly reflect English as a person. And that was just the way he liked it. Not many people got close to the lion, Rebecca and I being the exceptions. The house was arranged so anyone breaking in would find little about English, or his history. The few things that English held close to his heart were secure and secret.

Down on the main floor now, I followed the only light in the house to the kitchen. It wasn't much of a surprise to find him here.

"Mate." He didn't turn to acknowledge me as he fussed over a steaming kettle of water. "I was making a late night cup. Care to indulge with me?"

My nose wrinkled at the scent of the tea he was preparing. Unlike him, I was never really one for the drink, but I knew it wasn't worth the pain it would cause for me to turn him down.

A few moments later the harsh whistle of the kettle broke the quiet night. It was enough to make me jump.

The sound must have carried, I could see a few vaguely canine shadows out in the yard jump with me.

"We're ready, Mate." Moving with deliberate slowness, English poured the hot water from the kettle into his fine bone china teapot. The pot itself didn't look like all that much, but I knew he'd carried it on his back from Africa.

It was, as far as I knew, the only reminder he had of his mother. Or his father, or whole family for that matter.

There was a soft splash of two teabags dunking into the pot.

"Come one, Mate," he whispered as he picked up the pot and two cups. "There are too many prying eyes and ears here. Let's go find ourselves some privacy, eh?"

"It's just the dogs..."

English snorted. "You may not mind them, Mate, but I still have yet to forget what they did to us. I don't accept 'just following orders' as an excuse. This is the first time I've ever let them on my property. Just cause I've agreed to it doesn't mean I have to like it."

There was no basement to the home, so our only option to get further from my bodyguards was to go back up.

"Sorry, Mate. Never had this place made for so many guests." He chuckled. "With the Lass in the other bedroom, this is the only place we can get some peace." He walked into the master bedroom, setting the pot and cups on the hard wood floor before stepping up to the windows.

A slight scowl crossed his face before he pulled the blinds closed.

"Blasted mutts. I told them not to trample my garden." He let out a sigh.

I wasn't quite sure what to do. There were no chairs in the room, only the single king sized white linen bed. I perched on the corner.

English didn't have the nerves I did. He reached down to pour himself a cup of tea before stretching out across the bed with a yawn and a flick of his tail.

"You might as well relax, Mate, it's going to be a long night by the look of it." He grinned evilly when I didn't move from the corner of the bed. "Pull the stick out, Mate." He swatted at me with one hand, hard enough to send me rolling backwards onto the soft bed beside him. "After all this time? You can feel safe enough, Mate. If I wanted to make you a conquest I would have done it long ago before you met the Lass." His grin widened. "Unless that is you're..." He trailed off as he took a long sip of his tea.

Reaching for my own cup as an excuse, I put a foot of space between us. "Not with my fiancée sleeping in the next room over."

English snickered. "Whatever you say, Mate. It's not adultery yet. Give it a few more days and they'll change. Anyway," His voice descended into a deep, rolling purr and he shifted onto his back and set his teacup to rest on his chest, "I haven't told you about my own wedding have I, Tommy?"

That was almost enough to send me falling off the bed in shock.

"Since when were you married?"

He laughed softly. "For a long time now, Mate. Perhaps since before you were born, pup. Let me ask you this, Tommy. We've spoken about why you're marrying the Lass. Respect, is it not? Perhaps a little bit of duty mixed in there as well? And love." He chuckled again, "I think we've been able to decide that the two of you have a little bit of that. Am I about right?"

I wasn't quite sure what he was getting at, but I nodded.

"Good, Tommy. That's the right answer. Now, let me ask you this, have you ever looked out over the Pacific?"

I scratched my head. "Sure, I guess. Not that there's all that much to see to the west. Do you mean to the islands? I was just talking to Rebecca about Salt Spring..."

"Nah, Tommy." He took a deep breath. "Further. Much, much, further. Few thousand clicks. To Japan."

I shrugged. "That's were Max is from. And Kate, his wife."

"Hmm." The lion nodded sagely, staring up at the featureless white ceiling. I had the distinct feeling he was seeing something else. "You could say that's we're I'm from to, in a transitory way."

"It was after I left China, Tommy. You already know that story, so I won't say much more than my escape from the bounty hunting company was not as easy or clean as I would have liked. It was a bit of a running battle all the way south to Beihaishi on the coast." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I didn't kill any of the men they sent after me, but I did make sure that some of them wouldn't ever be walking again. Anyway," He cleared his throat, "That's not what we're talking about, eh? I made it to the coast, that's all that matters. I didn't really know where I was going at that point, just 'away'."

"I hopped the first ship I came across that I could afford. I wasn't poor at the point, having made fair enough coin at my last job, but I'd had to leave no too few of my possessions behind when I fled."

"The ship I happened across was bound for Nishinoomote. Japan." He said the name of the city in a single easy breath, but I'd never be able to repeat it.

"It's on Tangeashima Island, Mate. Not that that really matters all the much to you. All you need to know is that it's one of the smaller islands in southern Japan. After the Cataclysm it became a bit of a playground for the remaining rich and noble. I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that it wasn't China. That was good enough for me."

"Anyway, I got off the boat not speaking the language, holding no Japanese Yen, and not a clue where I was other than 'not where I had been'. Frankly though, it didn't concern me much. I'd already managed to get over those particular hurtles more than a couple of times already and I was game for it once more."

"Tangeashima Island, Tommy. Heh, it's a bloody well nice place. I'd lucked out that my ship had stopped there. It normally costs an arm and a leg to set foot on the island. Only the rich go there. My ship was just stopping off for supplies before continuing on and I - quite literally - jumped overboard and swam the last few hundred meters to shore." He shivered slightly. "Not something I'd do again. I didn't know at the time just how bad a swimmer I am. I was lucky to make it."

"Anyway," he continued, "I washed ashore and began prowling through the woods for a nice place to set camp. To say I was a little surprised would be an understatement. You ever seen one of those Japanese gardens? The kind where every single flower and every single peddle has been painstakingly placed? Nearly the entire island was one of those. It was off putting to say the least."

"I managed two nights on the island before the local guards ferreted me out. For once in my life I was smart enough not to fight. In no small part due to the fact all five guards were dragons. Tommy, I'd never seen anyone like that before - not even during my time in China."

"Anyway, there was no official law that forbid me from being on the island. It wasn't technically private. They dragged me in front of a couple of the head owners on the island, dirty and weathered as I was, for them to decide what to do with me."

"Now, keep in mind that I couldn't speak a word of Japanese, but I did know a few snatches of Mandarin. It wasn't much, but I was at least able to get across that I was a wayfarer, though they preferred the title rowan."

"See, I'd been surprised when I encountered dragons, but these folks were even more surprised when they encountered me. Seems there wasn't a single lion on all the Japanese islands - not surprising as I hadn't seen any of my own kind since leaving Africa - and lions have a place in Japanese mythology. Our lack over the past hundred years had done nothing but elevate us in their estimation. I, even in my dirty and rather unpleasant smelling state, was something akin to seeing a living spirit."

"Now don't get me wrong, they didn't see me as a living god or anything like that, through I was young and stupid enough that I would have been more than happy to encourage it. What they did see in me was a fountain of money. Each and every person who owned land on the island was rich, and most for good reason. They saw in me a tourist attraction."

"Yes, Tommy," He pulled a face, "I spent over three years on the island, working as a bloody tourist attraction. It wasn't a bad living all said and done, I just had to smile to the rich nobles and business men who came to see me, give them blessings."

"Not a bad deal. They taught me Japanese, gave me a small hut on the island. What they didn't do, however, was teach me more than the absolute minimum of the Japanese culture needed to avoid giving offence."

"Sound odd? Not really. Much of my charm was in the fact I was 'foreign'. Teaching me too much of the Japanese culture would have caused me to lose some of my value. They had no issue with me mingling with those who came to see me so long as I kept acting different. And trust me, Tommy, different is something I do well."

"Anyway, it was towards the end of those three years that a particular Japanese noble family came to the island. It wasn't the emperor, or even close, though they were distantly related. There were four of them. The mother and father, the older brother and the younger sister. They were all cats."

"They were the Gifu family. I knew they had to be important when the owners of the island came to me personally and asked me to show them a good time. Seems they were more than simply rich, and they'd come to island to see me."

"Despite what you might think, Tommy, it didn't go to my head. Dozens people had come over the years just to see me. They were, as far as I knew, no different."

"The day came and the Gifu's arrived. I played the perfect gentleman, with my normal edge of barbarian - that is to say, non-Japanese savagery - they were suitably impressed. I spun them a few tales, handed out blessings and did what I did every day. When the time came for them to return to their rented lodgings for the night I took the hand of the young daughter, Aika, and kissed it. It was forward of me, and very improper, but it was part of my savage charm. She just giggled."

"It was later that night that I received a summons to their rooms. When I say 'summons', Tommy, I mean it. People like this do not request that you come see them. They summon you."

"I hadn't the slightest what to do, so I went, after first taking a moment to comb myself out all nice and do what I could to make myself presentable."

"I knew I was outclassed the moment I walked in the building. You know the feeling. That moment when the door is opened by a servant and you just know you're out of your league. But that's never stopped me before, Tommy." English shook his head. "To be honest, the only thought that went through my mind was that the kimono I'd been given was too drab. Heh, imagine that, Tommy. I was stepping into the personal quarters of one of the richest families in Japan and all I could think was that the clothing I'd been given by the people who owned the island was too drab. I guess that I was still young back then. It never really went through my mind, but I, deep down, still thought of myself as a prince."

"Anyway," He pushed the thought aside, "I was ushered into the sitting room of the family. All four cats were there, dressed to the nines. They bowed to me when I entered and I bowed back. A moment later they began nattering away in Japanese, but I only caught one word in three. The best I could do in return was to nod my head and smile."

"In the end it took at least five repetitions, but I figured out what was going on. Now I really was smiling. It seemed that the daughter, Aika, had taken a shining to me. You see, that wasn't all that uncommon. I'd had a few different ladies throw themselves at me over the years. I was more than happy for it and found no reason to complain. Aika, however, was thinking something slightly different."

"She wasn't the firstborn of the family. Don't get me wrong, she was already set for life, but she didn't need to carry on the family name like her brother did. They'd come all the way out to the island to see me. They'd heard of the lion that had washed up ashore and were, quite frankly, curious. I was, in their eyes, a living good luck charm. And the fact I stood a good four feet taller than them and outweighed them by triple didn't hurt either."

"In any event they invited me to sit among them and drink Nihonshu. That's what they call what foreigners call saki. The evening passed quickly and pleasantly. I'd never partaken of Nihonshu before, Tommy, and let me tell you that it has a kick like a pissed off elephant."

"I held it well enough, but that night I had no compunction against laying down with Aika. The evening started well and ended better."

"That left me a little confused, to say the least, when they packed up and left the next morning without another word."

English took another sip of his rapidly cooling tea. "I all but forgot about them a week later. It had been a pleasant distraction, but I assumed I must have misunderstood what we were talking about. And in any event, in my world anything beyond a one night stand was a dirty concept."

"A month after that and I was just waking for the day when one of the owners of the island came to me all smiles. He was carrying a basket filled with rice balls and wine."

"I hadn't the slightest what was going on as he made me pack up and follow him out to the harbour. Truth be told I thought I was being sacked. I only realized what was going on when I saw the name on the boat that waited for me."

"Gifu's Explorer."

"It was the same family that had come to see me a month before."

"Boarding the ship, I was disappointed to see that no one from the family, especially Aika, was there to greet me. The staff were no help. Most of them were too shy to speak to me in my still fractured Japanese, and those who did could only tell me that they had directions to pick me up and return to the city of Chiba."

"And that was how I arrived in Japan proper. I'd landed on Tangeashima little better than a stowaway, but I arrived in Chiba like a king." He chuckled. "Or a prince."

"There was no great fanfare when I stepped foot on the soil, but I was quickly sped to the family's residence."

"Tommy, Mate, you've never seen Chiba. Gods, you'd remember it." The lion's eyes misted over for a moment. "They fell like everyone else during the Cataclysm, but they recovered far better than anywhere else I've ever seen."

"They used to call Chiba City the cyberpunk capital of the world. It may not be quite that anymore, but they can still light up the night in ways that we in V-town can only imagine. For a boy like me, Tommy, who had hardly so much as seen an electric light..."

"Tangeashima Island was a paradise, but it was kept rustic for the nobles who vacationed there. Chiba... Chiba was like a dream, a technicolour nightmare. They have cars and trains there, Tommy. They have neon lights that brighten the night so you can't tell it was ever anything but the day!"

"Anyway," He cleared his throat and glanced back down at his cup, "They brought me to a highrise building. I'd never seen anything like that before. You can't imagine how much trouble they had getting me in the elevator to lift me to the twenty-second floor! I just about rolled my eyes when I realized how high up we were!"

"And that's where I met the Gifu's again. Well, the Mister and the Missus. They stood there in modern business suits while I was still clad in the same performer's kimono I'd worn last they saw me."

"They nodded and accepted me graciously. Then, quick as they could, they handed me off to the staff to be made presentable."

"You think you had to sit through bugger all when you were mayor, Tommy? I had it ten times worse. I'd never even worn a pair of pants before that day, now I was clad in Japan's finest businessware. Special made it was, just for my size. I never did find out how they got my measurements."

"They ushered me into a room, all clean and fresh smelling now. It was a boardroom, an imported oak table overlooking a set of floor to ceiling windows that gave a commanding view of the harbour."

"I was still little better than a backwards bumpkin. I crawled up to the windows to peer out, fearful that I might fall the unimaginable distance to the ground far below. It was almost beyond my mind to imagine that I had come here in one of the countless ships that crowded the water so far below."

"It was her laugh that shocked me out of my reprieve. I hadn't even seen her where she stood off in the corner of the room."

"I should tell you about Aika. She was a catch no matter what her standing might be. Nowhere near my size, she was perhaps four feet tall and minty pounds soaking wet. She was a ginger cat, almost the same colour as I. If anything she reminded me of the females back by Lake Elementia."

"She spoke softly, almost too softly for me to hear. I had to puzzle my way through her words to understand what she was saying."

"I forget the words now, but they were something along the lines of welcoming me to the family, asking how I'd enjoyed my trip here."

"I was still speechless. My mouth hanging open as I gazed about me. She stepped forward then, reaching up a hand to gently close my mouth. You know what? That was the first time she touched me as a lady. The Aika I'd been with for a night a month ago had been a girl. This was a lady. A young one no doubt, but a lady none the less. There was something about the way she moved."

"When we'd been together before she had been hesitant, fearful. Now she was graceful and sure. She touched my face without a thought, like that was where she belonged. And I was too flabbergasted to so much as blink."

English chuckled. "I never thought you'd ever hear me used a word like flabbergasted, but that's the only way I can think to describe it. This was all too much. All too fast. When she stepped up to me and leaned into my side, it was like she was the only thing real in the entire world."

"I knew her, if only for a single night. She was a touchstone for me in this new world. I wrapped my arms around her and didn't let go for hours."

"She took me from the boardroom, out to meet her parents and brother again. They all spoke in quick and natural Japanese. It was all I could to even pretend to keep up."

"At one point they began talking to me about a dowry. Well, that wasn't their word for it, but it's close enough. They must have taken my silence as indignation, for every time I blinked the numbers they were talking about went up. And Aika, she was no help, she was arguing that she was worthless, that the family should pay me more to take her."

"I didn't even have a clue what kind of value they were talking about at the end, but Anka seemed happy, clutching my arm. I just did what I always did when something went over my head like this. I sat there and nodded wisely, scowling every so often when the tone of voices talking suggested I should."

"The next two months were among the best of my life. They'd be the best, Tommy, if I'd never met Jasmine. Gods how I wished I'd never met Jasmine. She haunted my memories every time I was with Aika."

"Jasmine had been everything that Aika was not. At least on the surface. Jasmine had been strong, firm in direction, and unwilling to compromise in what she believed. Aika... she was the ideal Japanese woman. Or at least the ideal that their media held up for all to follow. She always fought for me, and never contradicted me in public, no matter how poorly I understood the situation or what social gaff I might be making."

"It was during that time that I learned Japanese properly. You don't know the language, Tommy, and I'll tell you now it's a bugger's bugger. The language of my birth had been relatively simple. Indian - or the dialect of it I'd learned - had been challenging enough. And there had been a good reason I'd never learned more than a few fragments of Mandarin."

" Aika was the one to teach me, she made it her mission. And she had a gods' given way of rewarding me for doing well."

"It was around that point that I truly came to understand what I was to become a part of. I was to marry Aika."

"Heh. I didn't have an argument with that. She was warm and soft, and did every single thing I told her without complaint or comment. And her family was more than enough to keep me satisfied."

"And, well, that was what happened. Two months after I came to Chiba we were married in a proper Shinto temple. It was a relatively modest wedding for what they could have afforded. The Gifu's, unlike many other families, truly did believe in living relatively humble lives."

"We made our lives simply enough from then on out. Being the younger daughter, Anka didn't inherit any of the family's shipping business, but they, and their money, was never far away if we needed it."

"I made use of my own gods given strengths then. You may not think of me as such, but I can turn a fair hand as an actor. And I did." Pulling a grin from somewhere, he struck a pose and flexed his muscles. If I didn't know English so well I'd almost think the smile was real.

"And I turned a fair enough coin. We were comfortable enough, but enough wasn't enough. I'd spend so many years walking the roads, making my own life. Now it felt..." He pulled at the air, "It felt like I was a puppet dancing on a stick. Every few weeks the Gifu family would call me up and parade me in front of some new cargo ship or new product they'd imported from the gods knew where."

"I was a mascot, Tommy. Can you imagine that? I was their bloody mascot. Not that I really thought much of it at that time. My concern was more on our home."

"Don't get me wrong, Anka was an amazing woman. No longer a girl, there was little more I could ask for in her. Except she wasn't Jasmine."

"I never said it, not out loud at least. I did my honest best to be happy. Gods, Tommy, I did. I was a young fool back then, but I wasn't so foolish to throw away what I had without a fight again. I'd done that once back in India and I wasn't looking forward to it."

"I told you that Anka never said a word against me in public. It was true. But she would speak in private. Her words were always soft, but they came more and more often as I became restless."

"As sad as it might sound, I never did find out if Anka truly loved me. I made love to her, but I never loved her. She never did say if she married me, stayed with me, because she loved me, or because she loved her family's business. But it was close enough to the same none the less."

"She was the first person to know when I prepared to leave. She found out the evening she came into our bedroom and saw me packing my things."

"I told her that I'd purchased two backpacks. She could join me if she wanted. If she didn't... well, we'd had a good time together. I needed more than simply her. I needed to find my own life, not just be a status symbol of her family."

"She didn't say anything for a long time. Simply watched as I continued to pack. It's odd, Tommy. I can remember most everything I put in that backpack."

"My mother's tea set, a single lock of hair from Jasmine, my hunting tools, and some money. That was it."

"Anka's voice was soft when she spoke. She was less than a foot behind me, but I could hardly make out her words. She asked me what she'd done to drive me away. She promised she'd do better. That's she'd make me happy."

"You know, Tommy, it was that moment that I almost put down the pack and stayed. I didn't love her, but I could make love with her. It's an odd turn of phrase. We didn't just have sex. We made love. I couldn't have love just by having her, but for brief moments I could find peace with her, could find, make, the love."

"I turned to her, reached out to her. She didn't shy away from me. My Japanese was good enough by then that I could articulate what I felt. The only problem is that I was the one who couldn't make it into words, no matter the language."

"I told her I cared for her. Told her I wished her the best. Even told her again that she was welcome to come with me."

"Her words, I remember them, were 'What of our marriage?' I had expected her words to be of something about her family's company. How I'd ruin her, her reputation. But no, she asked about our marriage."

"I said I was was still young and stupid back then, Tommy. It was true. All I did was to shrug and reply 'Our marriage is what we make of it. You can make of it what you want, I'm leaving.' It was then she walked away."

"She didn't flee from the room in tears. She simply nodded to me and walked calmly from our bedroom. A moment later I heard her leave our home, the door closing softly behind her."

"That was the last time I ever saw her."

"Packing, it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes before I was ready to leave. I was standing just inside the front room to our home, pack on my back, double checking to make sure there was nothing else I wanted to take. I'd already gone through our finances. I left three-quarters to her. I felt it was only right. Most of it had come from her family anyway."

"The door slid softly open behind me then. I turned. I can't say I was surprised to see her father and brother standing there. They were both dressed in their normal business suits like this was nothing more than another meeting."

"They didn't say anything while they looked our home. I hadn't ransacked the place, to the contrary it was almost untouched. A moment later they brushed past me to look into our bedroom. Then they took a seat at our table. They looked up at me, not saying a word, but clearly expecting me to join them."

"I wasn't in much of a rush. To be honest, I didn't even know where I was going. I'd only decided to leave a few hours before, after my last performance. I sat down with them, but I never took the pack off my back."

"Shishi. That's what they called me. They'd given me that name when they first met me. They had always spoken the word with a degree of reverence before. Now they spat it like a curse."

"I wasn't quite sure what to expect from them. To be frank, I was a little frightened. Not that I admitted it, even to myself. But I'm older now, Tommy, I know better now."

"They didn't yell, didn't fight. Like Anka, they only asked what was to happen to our marriage."

"I hadn't thought about it when Anka had asked the question, but now I'd had some time to go over it myself."

"I told them that it had been pleasant, but it was time to move one. I didn't want to dishonour them, they had offered me an amazing gift, but I was ready to leave. As far as I was concerned the marriage had served its purpose."

"The two of them looked at each other. The father's voice was quiet when he spoke, but hard. Like being hit over the head by a velvet wrapped iron girder."

"He told me that marriage was not something that was simply 'convenient', that this was something that was intended to last until I died."

"I was a bit taken aback. Sure I knew what marriage was, I'd seen enough married couples, but it was, in my eyes, academic. I was different. I suppose it was, once again, my damn father's influence." The snarl that slipped into English's voice when he spoke of his father was enough to make him pause for a moment, take a deep breath and compose himself. "Anyway, I shrugged it off."

"They asked me why I hadn't told them of this before we'd been married. They'd had their concerns with me, being as foreign as I was, and had given me a generous two months to make sure I was ready."

"I simply cocked my head. I hadn't seen it that way."

"In any event, the conversation was starting to make me uncomfortable, likely nearly as bad as it did them. I told them I had a ship to catch, that I had to be going."

"I was just beginning to rise when a single word from the father's lips stilled me as sure as ice through my veins."

"Stop. That was all he said. But he said it like a father, my father."

"His voice became emotionless as he spoke now. He accepted that I was to leave, that was his way. His son, sitting next to him, did not take it so well, he was bright red and fuming, but the father didn't fight."

"He told me that he couldn't make me stay, and he wouldn't even if he could. It wouldn't be right to me, and it would be a grave wrong to Anka. A graver wrong then even my leaving."

"He only asked that I give up my connection to the Gifu family. And that I leave on one of his ships."

"The deal was that he would let me go, but I must leave under the guise of a business trip. Anka and I would never be officially divorced. I would leave to 'help the family business grow in the new world' and would simply never return. She would then proclaim me dead and move on."

"To be honest, Tommy, that was the best plan I'd heard in a long time. I was young, young and foolish, but I wasn't evil. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I just needed out. This seemed to me to be the perfect solution. I would have my freedom and they would retain their honour."

"It wasn't even all that bad a deal for them either." English began speaking quickly, tripping over his own words, "I'd helped the company grow no small measure while I was there, it was almost double the size as when I started."

"Anyway," He took a breath and steadied his words, "It was only hours later, in the dark folds of the neon Chiba night, that I left Japan."

"I can still remember my last sight of Chiba. I'd been there for two years. It had introduced me to the modern life. I can still remember it sinking into the water behind me as the small clipper I'd been given sailed away."

"And that, Tommy, is where my story takes yet another turn. You see, the clipper I'd been put on was not one of the Gifu's larger ships. Less than thirty feet long, it had only a crew of two. I had no idea where it was going. I'd been told 'the new world'. All I knew of that was that it was east."

"That suited me. I'd been travailing east since burying my mother. Some more east would be good for me."

"There was far more east to the Pacific Ocean than I'd ever dreamed. It was after our second week I began to become restless."

"I asked the captain, a low ranking but loyal man in the family business, when we were to arrive. He said we'd make our destination the next day."

"He wasn't lying. We did meet our destination noon that next morning. The middle of the Pacific."

"The Gifu had told me they would take me to the 'New World'. I assumed they meant North America. If I'd thought about it a bit deeper, I would have realized that New World can also translate into The Next World."

We were near dead centre in the Pacific when one-hundred ponds of explosives detonated in the belly of our ship.

"The crew had known it was there. They'd been the ones to bring it aboard, and they'd been the ones to detonate it."

"They both died instantly, but I - lucky or not - had jumped overboard moment before."

"That, Tommy, did not leave me in a good way."

"Thousands of kilometres from land, lost and alone, bobbing in the cold waters of the Pacific ocean, clinging to the floating debris of the ship that had been chartered to take me to the next world."

"I, Tommy, was feeling a bit put out."

"Suffice it to say that I didn't much care for swimming when I'd arrived in Japan. I downright hated it now."

"I ended up sitting on a shard of the hull, the largest piece that remained of the ship. Never did see either of the crew again. I sat there, cold, beaten, and lonely for five days." The lion laughed, a pained and pinched sound. Reaching up, he rubbed his eyes before taking another sip of cold tea. His hands came away wet.

"It was quite a change, Tommy. Not a month before I'd been in a warm, soft bed, Anka at my side, doing whatever I wished. I was a long, long, way from there now."

"I told you that when I first met Anka she was still a girl? Then she was a woman next I saw her?"

"Well, I'd still been a boy. I had the body of a man, but I'd still been a child. A child that had killed and shagged, but still a foolish, selfish, boy. It was all alone on that piece of waterlogged wood that I finally became a man."

He let out a breath. "It was just past noon on the fifth day that I was found by a passing ship. It was a trader, but not one the Gifu's. They knew of me and were more than happy to rescue me and bring me to the new world."

"What they didn't know was that the man they pulled aboard from that floating coffin wasn't the same lion who had worked for the Gifu's."

"The cub that had set out on the voyage would have been more than happy to sit back on my rescuer's ship and been taken to the new world in a degree of luxury."

"The lion they did pick up, while not humble," He smiled, "Was at least closer to."

Picking the cup up again, he knocked back the last of the tea and laid back on the bed.

"They dropped me off in Victoria. There's not much there these days, more of a stop off on the way to V-town. I then found my own passage from there to here."

A laugh worked its way up from deep in his chest. A real one this time.

"Then I met Smith, and Sayer, and started SF. But," He yawned wide enough to make my jaw hurt, "That's a story for another time."

I didn't really have much to say in response. English just looked over my way and reached out to ruffle the fur between my ears. I pulled back and nearly fell off the bed.

"That's not to say I think the Lass will try to get you killed if you leave her, Mate." His accent was back in full force, "But it's just to tell you that this is a big decision. The two of you are already devoted to each other, so this is likely the best thing you can do, but you need to be sure it's forever."

He paused for a moment and yawned again. "As for me, I guess there must be a god looking out for foolish young lions. That's the only way I can say I survived. But anyway, Mate..."

He petered off as we both heard the lock in the front door quietly click. A moment later the sound of the door sliding open seemed loud in the night's silence.

Not a word passed between us as we rolled off the bed and stalked down the stairs.

What was going on? No one should be able to get in here without the police dogs outside raising the alarm.

The thought that someone could have gotten past them... or eliminated them, was enough to run my blood cold.

We got as far as the bottom of the stairs before a familiar scent made me smile.

"Jon." I stepped around the corner to see the police dog standing at attention, waiting for me. "How did you get in?"

He cocked his head slightly. "Mr. English gave me a key some time ago. Said I might need it if something were to go wrong. I believe this qualifies."

I glanced back to English in shock. The lion just pulled a face and hurried the conversation along.

"What's up, dog?" His voice was gruff.

"I finished another sweep of the apartment building. Nothing of note was found. We've improved the security again, and believe it to be safe for you to return at your leisure." He paused for a moment to pull a paper from one of his breast pockets. "And I assumed you would like to read the letter itself. This is a photographic copy. The decision was made to separate you from the original in the event it has been coated in a compound unknown to us."

There wasn't much to the letter, really. I only got a second to see it before English ripped it from my hands to read it, his back turned to me.

"Bah!" He ripped the paper to sherds. "There's nothing here of use. No demands other than 'breakup'. It could be from anyone. My advice, Mate? Bugger them. Bugger them all. You've survived enough already, and they don't seem interested in targeting the Lass. Let's get this over with and they might just curl up and go away."

I glanced over to Jon.

He shrugged. "The force is behind you, no matter your decision. And personally," He raised one lip in the faintest smile, showing a tooth, "For once I agree with English."

I spent that night in English's guest room, curled up against Rebecca.

I couldn't speak for anyone else, but there was no danger I would ever be caught in the trap... traps that had ensnared English.

It took me a long time to finally fall asleep. Long after midnight. I could see out the window from where I lay, looking out over the large back lawn and the police dogs that patrolled endlessly back and forth.