xiii. Ocelot

He didn't see me at first when he came out. I stood in my place near the top of the stairs, where I had been waiting, and observed him for a few moments in silence. He quietly closed the door, taking great care in the operation, and then slumped against the wall next to it, head lowered, hands pressed against the wall for support. He stood like that for a long time, then looked up as if sensing something. I had not made a sound or a movement, but somehow he saw me anyway. "What are you doing there?" he asked wearily, not moving.

"Just waiting," I said, coming up to the top of the stairway. I leaned against the railing.

"For what?" He sounded tired, like he didn't want to have to deal with me right now. He looked terrible.

I shrugged minimally. "Thought maybe you might want somebody to talk to."

He closed his eyes again and looked at the floor. "I haven't time to talk," he said, his voice very quiet. "In ten minutes, I have to go back into that room and kill my son."

I didn't answer for several seconds. "You decided, then."

He nodded, still without looking at me. "I can't do anything for him. I can't help him. It's what he wants me to do."

"Do you—" I broke off, not sure how to say it in the right way. "You don't—have to do it, you know. I—"

"No," he said, softly but decisively, cutting me off. "No. It isn't for you, or anyone else, to do this. I will—" He stopped, took a deep breath, "—do what is necessary."

I nodded. I had known that, of course, but I'd had to try. "How... are you—?"

His gaze came up, then lowered again. "A...simple spell. It should be..."—his voice caught—"...painless."

"Do...you want me to...do anything?" I asked, sounding awkward. "Or Aubrey?"

"Just go away," he said desolately. "Leave me alone." He glanced down at his chrono. "I have to go back in there soon. I just want to...be alone."

I pushed myself slowly off the railing. "I'll leave you alone," I told him, "but I'm staying here."


"I have my reasons. I'll tell you what they are later." I couldn't tell him now. I didn't even want to think about it now. But I wasn't going to move away from my vigil, no matter what he said.

He seemed to sense that, and didn't have the fight left in him to argue with me. "Just go," he said again. "Do whatever you like, but go."

I nodded and slowly backed away, back to my post near the stairs. He couldn't see me from where I was, nor could I see him, but it was close enough.

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