NUJV (34)

I have to frost the cake because that’s what I said I was going to do.

I can’t.

I have to frost the cake because that’s what I said I was going to do! They will notice!

What if he looks in and sees me?

Mordecai took down his hands and regarded the kitchen window with horror. You couldn’t look in from the alley, but he said it was okay for Erik to be glued to the wall. He said that because he worried too much and he was always coming in and saying ‘slow down’ or ‘wait’ or ‘don’t’ and Erik needed not to be hurt anymore, but Erik needed to be a kid and have fun and he needed to not ruin everything all the time but he didn’t think about Erik looking in the window and seeing him and that would ruin everything, too…

Maybe the window is still too high? I told him not to go up too high…

Am I crying?

He wiped under his eyes with both hands. He sobbed once. He still had the towel in his back pocket and he drew it out and pressed it over his mouth.

I can’t. I have to frost the cake.

It was so hard to do that. He had paint all over him and he had to do something about the paint. And there were measuring things he needed to use. He had to wash things so he could measure things. He had to measure butter and sugar and peanut butter. Vanilla extract…

I can’t.

I have to frost the cake! I said I was going to do that! Why am I like this? Why can’t I just do that?

He knew it was going to be bad today. He woke up early, and it had been a hard time getting to sleep. He had done a lot of thinking. He didn’t have any more perfect medicine that shut up the part of his brain that liked to stab him in the heart. Gods, it wasn’t even like it did that. He had always been perfectly aware of the situation with Erik vis-a-vis the Invisibles and the rest of his life and how dangerous and difficult that was going to be for him, for both of them. The medicine didn’t poke out his intellect, it just kept him from hurting himself with it, and that was enough. Left to his own devices, it seemed he would rather not frost the cake — though he had all the tools he needed for it at his disposal — he would prefer to hit himself with the spatula until he cried.

It was everything. It was the one big thing dragging him down like a lead weight and then everything else could take shots at him like a sniper. Hey! Look at Erik playing on the porch like that! Sure has been a long time since he’s been able to run around and play like a normal kid, hasn’t it? He’s having a little trouble with those soldiers, isn’t he? That’s because you got sick and he had to help you! Ow! Hey! You’re still not paying Hyacinth any rent! You’re pretty useless, aren’t you? That hurts, too, doesn’t it? Hey! Great! Wow! Look at Erik all covered in red like that! You remember when that happened? He doesn’t have an eye! That’s forever! You promised Alba you’d take care of him! What the hell happened, huh? Look how unhappy he is! He was having a pretty fun time until you showed up, buzzkill. You’re not gonna make it, are you? Can’t even keep it together for the kid’s sake. Gods, how pathetic can you get?

Exactly this pathetic, apparently. Bent over the kitchen counter sobbing into a towel and screaming at himself to frost a cake.

That is not helping. Stop it.

Take care of yourself.

That was on the paper. Take care of yourself. Ann showed him how to do that. He wasn’t as good at it when he didn’t have another person to order around, but the ability was on file. It just needed to be applied.

You do not scream at people when you take care of them, stupid.

You don’t call them stupid, either.

Okay. All right. Fine. Just do what you need.

What in all the gods’ names do I need? Cough syrup? Open a vein?

No. He wouldn’t let someone do that.

He dipped himself a glass of water and sat down at the table. He could see the window. That bothered him a little, but he thought if Erik was going to look in the window he would have done that by now, and then he would’ve come tearing in the door.

What if they come in anyway, though? What if they’re done painting and come in?

Well… Then I guess I’m going to do that thing on the paper about not being Milo and asking for help.

He bowed his head and sighed, resigned. He had been practicing being resigned to that, like how he sometimes caught suicidal people with a whole bunch of scratch marks around that vein in the wrist. Okay, yeah. Here I go. Okay. This time for sure. Okay. He guessed it was the exact opposite of that kind of thing, but it didn’t feel like it.

He would prefer it not to be all of them like that. Especially not the goddamned General. (That helped him reorder his shit a little bit right there, just picturing her seeing him this way.) But most of all, he wanted to spare Erik. He would have to be very careful about asking for help around Erik. He wasn’t sure he could manage it. Erik was an emotional minefield and Erik had a lot of invisible people around him who thought he needed to know things. He seemed to get more information when he was in the room and a subject was being discussed. Mordecai could avoid saying he’d thought about walking out in the cold and never coming back, but that didn’t mean Violet would. Violet could go right on ahead and tell Erik his uncle was going to kill himself someday, which was information Mordecai didn’t have yet (and did not want, either, thank you).

If he didn’t want it to come down to a situation like this where he didn’t have control over it, he was going to have to choose another one where he did have control over it, and soon. This was hard. This thing where Erik had hurt himself to save him was hard. And being a handler again, going through all that. And knowing it was just going to keep happening. Auntie Enora was first. There would be another one. There would be a lot more. Erik would be the one to be hurt by it and Mordecai would be the one to clean up after it and knowing that and waiting for it was very hard. He didn’t have to do that alone, he didn’t, but he had to reach out for help.

If he didn’t reach out for help, he wasn’t going to be able to do what he needed to do.

Okay. So. He was going to do that. Today? Today. Before it got bad like this again. So he could stop being bad like this and crawl out of this hole he had fallen into.

If they come in and it has to be now, it’s okay. I can explain and ask them to take Erik away and ask the General to leave and they will do that, because they’re my friends.

If I can’t frost the cake, it’s okay. I can tell them why.


He finished his glass of water, and by then he had pretty much stopped crying.

Let’s see if I can get the paint off my hands.

He did one thing at a time and made no commitment to the end product. If it got to be too much he stopped, or sat down for a minute, or even cried if he needed. He tried to act as if he were watching him, as if he were helping him, as he if liked him. That last bit was most difficult. It was easier just to imagine some paint-covered stranger had wandered into the kitchen, sobbing. He would help that person. He’d be confused about it, but he’d do it.

What’s that? You wanna do dishes? Okay…

But he wasn’t detached and confused; he understood. That part sucked. That was the part that made him need to stop and cry sometimes.

He helped him frost a cake. After some negotiation, he even helped him make coffee! Then he put him to bed.


He heard the door open and saw light.

He had been… not really sleeping. But he would sort of get into these strings of thought where he didn’t care if they made sense anymore. Memory. Conjecture. They were fragile. It was something very painful about him in bed here and Alba in bed at the hotel, like maybe he didn’t deserve it or maybe he did deserve it a lot more. He couldn’t put it together again. It just hurt.

“Yeah. So you’re in here,” said Hyacinth.

He closed his eyes. He didn’t move otherwise. “Is Erik there?”

“No. I told him to check the roof. I figured it’d give me a minute to kick you in the ass if you needed it.”

“Please, can you think of something to tell him where I’m okay, but I need to still be in here? Not coughing.” Erik had gone through so damn much because of the coughing. He had made certain never to beg off because of coughing. “Maybe I have a headache? Something where he won’t be scared but you can come back? I need to talk to you, but I don’t want him to be scared. Please.”

A moment’s pause.

Please understand, he thought. Please don’t make me explain it more. Not when he might come in.

“All right,” said Hyacinth. The door closed and the light vanished.

He lay under blankets with his hands clenched until the light came back. “Is it just you?”


“What did you tell him?”

“Headache. I said the paint fumes were bothering you and you should have it quiet for a while. He wasn’t happy about it or anything, but he doesn’t mind about not coming in.”

“Oh. Paint fumes.” He sighed. That was smart. Hyacinth was a smart person. About a lot of things. Thank the gods.

“It doesn’t seem like anybody told him not paint fumes, either, so I guess you got lucky.”


He didn’t quite know how to follow that up. So she did it for him, of course.

“Am I going to be having whatever earth-shattering conversation this is with a sentient pile of bedding, or…?” He could just see her — standing there, glaring at him. Or, at the area approximating him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh at her or hide more.

“This is just really hard,” he said.

She sighed. He heard footsteps. She was looking for a place to sit down, he guessed. They ought to have chairs in here. But, it seemed like that would mean taking chairs from somewhere else in the house. Certainly he wouldn’t take one of the nice chairs from the front room, with the upholstery — even though that was balding and held on with charms because all the tacks had been removed — and there were barely enough chairs in the kitchen for everyone in the house to sit down, even though everyone in the house was rarely in the kitchen at one time and even when they were they weren’t all sitting down. Anyway, taking a chair from the house to put in his room felt like stealing, and it seemed silly to buy a chair. He’d had this folding stool for the ‘cello, that was just practical, but he’d left it behind when Erik got hurt. There was no point to buying another one of those when he didn’t have a ‘cello… he didn’t even have money

He was supposed to be talking again. If she was going to sit, she would’ve sat by now. He could’ve checked to see, but he did not want to. It was hard enough to be staring at blanket.

He closed his eyes.

It was warm. He was cold. He was wearing his nightshirt because his clothes were all over paint and he knew he was going to get into bed. He wished he’d gotten into more clothes. Maybe he would’ve felt less… or more… Not like this.

He didn’t want to do this.

He needed to do this. He’d asked for it and he’d already started, no matter how badly he wanted to stop.

It’s not for me. It’s so I can help Erik. I’m not Milo. I can. This is taking care of me. Come on. Let’s just do a little. Let’s try.

“Hyacinth… I’m trying. This is me trying. I think… I don’t know if that’s how it is, but I’ve got an idea you think I’m not trying. That I like to quit sometimes and wait for you to come pick me up. I don’t do that. Sometimes I get very tired and very hurt but it isn’t that I’m not trying. I want to be better than this. I’m not…” He put both hands over his eyes, because closed and a blanket was not enough, not even with clenched teeth and shaking his head. “This is how I am. Sometimes this is the best I can do. But I’m trying. Do you believe me? Do you understand?”

Hyacinth was sitting on Erik’s unmade bed with her feet on the rug and her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms piled on top of them, looking annoyed with the situation — because she had no idea how else to look. It had been a perfectly lovely afternoon. There had been a reasonable amount of stupidity to deal with, but there had been fun, and they had accomplished something, and there had been cake! And then stupid Mordecai had stayed missing and Erik had got worried and that turned over a big shovelful of dirt and nightcrawlers in her mind. Coping with Erik and Mordecai before, when it had got a lot worse than this — whole days spent in bed, weeks when she hardly saw him and Erik increasingly frantic, though confused and mercifully uncertain why. Anticipating coping with Erik and Mordecai again. And coping with David, she couldn’t help remembering that. Sometimes she remembered that when she broke a dish or put a knife away in a drawer. Or heard particular music. (Though thankfully that didn’t get played a lot anymore, and there hadn’t been any music at the house at all since Erik’s injury.)

And now, this… What the hell was this? She had expected some pathetic behavior. Some plea for attention. Go away. Leave me alone. I hate you. Or, Come back. Please love me. I’m hurt. You know. Not necessarily in so many words. Basically the same idea, either way. She had been mentally gauging how much of a demonstration of affection would be necessary to get him to the dinner table without rewarding the behavior. (Okay, people really love you, now could you stop being an asshole about it because you’re hurting Erik with this?) She did not expect… What even was this? Understand me?

Is this…? That seems extremely specific. Don’t you just want petting?

“Mordecai,” she said, blinking. “Is there something you want me to do about this?”

He sighed raggedly. These words, he thought, were the sounds of Hyacinth not understanding at all. Perhaps not even listening. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything right now. I guess not laugh at me. Don’t hurt me about it.” He couldn’t progress to Help me, not from that reaction.

She took down her knees and sat forward. “I’m not going to laugh at you. It’s not funny.” This was honesty, which was what tended to come out of her in any situation. That might’ve been getting shot in the head or just the life experience afterward. Maybe both. “You’re saying you didn’t get fed up or throw a fit. You’re saying the bill came due and they shut off the electricity after you made cake and coffee?”

“No. They shut off the electricity after Erik was so unhappy I wouldn’t let him be glued to the wall.” He put his hands over his eyes again. “I pushed me. I know I can’t just leave. I know that hurts him. And I can’t say it’s coughing anymore, not after what happened. That hurts him, too. He worries. He worries all the time.” Here were tears, but they were about Erik and he didn’t think he was going to be able to tamp them down. He couldn’t keep them from falling, and he heard the pain in his voice.

“Ah-um,” said Hyacinth, which also approximated her thoughts. Don’t you want…? Haven’t you been trying to upset him so you know he loves you?

She didn’t think a lot. She didn’t think Mordecai was a sadist. She didn’t think he even really meant it consciously. But she did think he liked to know. Because he loved Erik a lot and Erik loved him a lot. She had mentioned it. About the loving. By way of Erik being worried. So Mordecai would stop doing the worrying things.

What kind of animal is living in this box? I thought it was a squirrel. I’ve been feeding it peanuts. My gods, I think it may be an alligator. What’s been happening to the peanuts?

“I’ve thought about going,” he said softly. “Ah… Just so he doesn’t have to deal with it anymore. I think… I’ve thought… He’d be a lot happier if it was just you.” He shook his head, unseen. “I know that’s not right, and I know it would hurt him and I won’t do it, I just… It isn’t fair to him, Hyacinth. He has a lot to deal with on his own and he shouldn’t have to deal with me.”

“Where in the hell are you gonna go where they let you live rent free and hang out in bed all day?” This was also honesty, and a little offense. Hey, I’m a nice person with a nice house! You’re supposed to love it here, goddammit! “Even in a workhouse, they’re gonna make you pick cotton fibers or something, you sure as hell can’t do that with your lungs.”

A long pause, too long. “I guess I didn’t think about that part,” he managed.

Hyacinth drummed impatient fingers against her knee. “So, when we say ‘go,’ Mordecai, do we mean not so much, ‘a furnished room’ or ‘a spacious cardboard box,’ but something more like ‘off of a bridge?'”

His voice was weak, and a bit petulant, like a small child whom an older sibling keeps elbowing the ribs. Sto-o-op it! “I said I wouldn’t, okay?”

“Why didn’t you say something?” she cried. That wasn’t… Not only was that wrong, that wasn’t fair. You have to say something so that I can hide the scissors! You have to do something!

Play loud music. Threaten. Scream. Cry. Break things. Break people. Climb up on the roof of the townhouse at one o’clock in the morning and inform the entire neighborhood (and therefore the police) of your intention to jump off and die.

You have to let me know you’re in trouble so I can rescue you! Don’t you want me to rescue you?

Oh, my gods, do you actually want to be dead?

He could’ve done that, and she wouldn’t have known to stop him. He could’ve just done that. Gone. No sharp objects. No jumping off the roof. Just gone. She wouldn’t even have known he was dead.

You wanted to do that and you didn’t say anything?

It felt like betrayal, but she wasn’t sure from which one of them.

“I didn’t want anyone to know,” he said, head in hands. “Hyacinth… Everything about this hurts. The way it is… and knowing how stupid it is, and knowing how it hurts Erik and everyone else. And knowing I can’t do it. And this… this thing where I’m trying to get you to help me. This hurts, too. I don’t want to ask. I don’t want to need it. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, gods, back the hell up,” said Hyacinth. She put a hand over her eyes and shook her head. “Mordecai, I’m pissed you didn’t tell me before. Don’t apologize for telling me now. You’ve got it backwards. You’re breaking my brain. I want to yell things at you, but I can’t find words. Give me a couple of minutes, here. I need to sort this out.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She cut a hand at him. “No. No. Quit. No. Shut mouth. No words.”

He sighed. He wasn’t through it, maybe halfway. He’d said some things. Maybe not everything, maybe not what he’d intended, but he did say ‘help.’ And she wasn’t just yelling or mad — she was trying, too. Maybe she didn’t understand yet, but there were wheels turning over there, he could hear them, grinding gears like clenched teeth.

“Okay,” she said. She had sorted her words like playing cards. She dealt them one at a time. “Have you ever, really, seriously thought about killing yourself, and you didn’t say anything? I mean, not like detailed plans. Just ‘Hey, that’s a good idea!’ Has that happened?”

Oh, gods, he wished he hadn’t mentioned that. She was so fixated on that. He wanted to get help for Erik. For him, yeah, but so he could help Erik. The details… Why did she have to punch her hands in and pull out all the details? “Yes,” he said weakly.

“Okay, that needs to not happen anymore,” she said. “We are putting the brakes on right there. I don’t know whatever else you want me to do, but if you start to feel that way you need to tell me. I don’t care if you don’t like it. I don’t care if it hurts. I promise I won’t hurt you any more about it. I won’t yell at you or laugh — the gods alone know why you think I’d laugh about something like this — just tell me so I can do something. I will ask what you need me to do.”

Okay,” he said. “But it isn’t always bad like that. It isn’t even most of the time, it’s all these little things…”

“Yes. I know. I am understanding that you need help. I don’t really know what I’m going to do, maybe you can help me with that, or maybe we’ll just work it out as we go along. I don’t know. But I need to be very, very sure of the other thing right now, because you just scared the hell out of me.”

Yeah. That was what it was. Not anger or betrayal or even bewilderment. He just scared the hell out of her.

He drew a long breath and let it out slowly. “It’s really hard for me to talk about these things. Especially that.” He knew how wrong and stupid it was just to think that way. Admitting it aloud was like having to raise his hand and tell the teacher he’d wet his pants.

“It’s really hard for me to not scream at you and shake you right now,” she replied. “Sometimes we have to be very brave and do really hard things so we don’t hurt our friends.”

“Is it like that?” he asked. She wasn’t just mad at him for the part where he was stupid and weak and wrong, he’d really frightened her and hurt her?

“I need this from you,” she said. “We’re not doing anything else until you promise to let me help you not die.”

He closed his eyes. He didn’t really think about it, he just let the words exist in his mind and tried to get used to them. “I guess that’s what I wanted,” he said. “Okay.” He took another breath. “I promise I’ll tell you if it gets that bad. But I want you to help me so it doesn’t get that bad,” he added. “I don’t know if that’s fair to ask. I don’t know if anyone can do that. But will you try?”

“Damn it, of course I’ll try. What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t always know what I need,” he said. He shook his head. “I’m not very good at listening to me. I’m trying to be better. Sometimes it’s just to hide like this so I can get myself together, but that’s harder now. I used to be able to say I was sick, but I can’t do that now. Erik went through so much so I wouldn’t get sick like that anymore.”

“That doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get sick,” she said. It was warming up, which helped him a great deal, but there were five bonds in his lungs that she hadn’t even fixed — and she was not eager to lay him out again and start in on those. Either they would not have medicine to help him when she did that, or they would have to have Erik call Auntie Enora again — and she was also not eager to put Erik through however long (possibly more than two weeks!) of black coffee and cigarettes and then not being able to move. And the screaming.

Erik still didn’t move right.

Even if she had fixed everything, metal was not a good material for lungs. It was just all she knew how to do.

“I know,” he said. “But I don’t want to pretend about it. I don’t want to make it more than it is… or it will be.”

“…How do you feel about hay fever?” she said.

He blinked. “I have absolutely no opinions on hay fever whatsoever.”

“I mean, do you think Erik would freak out if we said you had it? It’s not coughing and it’s not serious and we could explain about that.”

“I don’t see how sneezing and a runny nose gets me away from people so I can hide.”

“The pills for it do,” she said. “They knock you out. You need a break, you come see me, we pretend pills. Hell, you can even have pills, if Erik’s looking. They won’t kill you. Then you need a nap.”

That actually made a great deal of sense and seemed like it might work, but he was reluctant to admit it. It seemed so easy, and everything had been so hard. “Someone might tell him that isn’t what it is.”

“Yeah, someone might tell him it wasn’t coughing or frosting a cake or whatever, too. If it doesn’t work or it doesn’t hold up and we have to tell him what’s going on with you, then that’s not all on you anymore, either. And it’s not your fault.”

“It is my fault.”

“It’s not on purpose.”

He sighed. “Yeah.”

Okay. So this is the help. This is what having help is like.

It was a lot more yelling than he would’ve liked. If he’d thought about her being mad at him (not for being weak and broken, but for not telling her about it sooner?) he might not have been able to do this at all. He thought maybe confused or not-understanding. Not more-understanding-than-he-wanted and then mad. She seemed to want instructions out of him, too, like he came with a manual. Is this a new machine? What am I supposed to do with it? How does it work? He didn’t know how it worked. If he knew how the damn thing worked, he wouldn’t need the help with it! But the thing where he needed to hide sometimes was a concrete problem that needed a real solution and she seized on it like one of those little metal puzzles where you need to untangle the bent nails and she solved it for him. Here. What else ya got?

“Hyacinth… thank you. I’m sorry I scared you and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.” Since she seemed bothered about him just apologizing in general and he felt sorry and he wanted to say it about something.

“Yeah, well…” She wasn’t about to say it was okay. She was not okay with it! “I guess we’ll work on that.”

“This has been really hard and I’m really tired and I don’t know if I’m going to be okay to come out for dinner. Is it almost dinner?” He had to assume that it being near dinner was what prompted her to come looking for him in the first place. He was supposed to make dinner. That had become a semi-regular thing since Yule, and had resumed on a nightly basis now that he wasn’t sick anymore. Shopping lists and dinner. It made up for the fact that he still wasn’t paying any rent, at least she pretended it did.

And maybe she was worried because she knew he knew he was supposed to make dinner and he hadn’t showed up for it.

Certainly, Erik would’ve been worried.

Oh, gods, Erik…

“I think we might be past dinner, at least if we’re going by Erik’s watch.” Erik’s watch had spaghetti at seven o’clock precisely — no numbers, he hadn’t been doing numbers when Milo made the watch, just an animated drawing of spaghetti. “You don’t have to come out for it. That headache ought to hold up for the rest of the night if you need it, but I’m going to bring you a plate of something and I want you to eat. You should at least have some cake.”

“All right.” More helping. He guessed it was going to be a lot harder for him to get away with not having food. He wasn’t sure about getting dressed. He was trying to be better about getting dressed, anyway.

“Listen, I’m going to grab your paint clothes.” They were folded neatly over the table with the sheet music. He hadn’t felt right about just throwing them in the trash — they weren’t falling apart or anything, it was just paint, even if he couldn’t wear them that way. “Maybe Milo or the General can do something to them.”

“That woman would say I deserve to have ruined clothes for being an idiot.”

“Yes, and not even for being an idiot with paint, but I’ll see about fixing them. Even if it’s just soap and water, it’s not like I can ruin them more.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s not a problem. I’ll come back in with food in a little while. I won’t bring Erik.”

He nodded, unseen. “Thank you for that, too.”


The thing she was after was in the right front pants pocket. She waited until she was safely in the dining room with the bedroom door shut behind her before she examined it. The light was not good in the dining room, there had been a chandelier, a gas one, but that had gone ages ago, and they didn’t put up mage lights or anything because they didn’t use the dining room. There was enough over-spill from the kitchen and the front room for her to read, and she didn’t want to take it where there were people. They might want to read it, too.

It was a narrow piece of paper taken from the kitchen pad, folded in half twice, fuzzy and curled at the corners from much fingering and use.

It was titled, in smudged pencil: How To Be OK For Erik (this was underlined).

-You are not Milo. You are not too afraid to get help. REMEMBER THIS.

-Don’t just leave. Make something up. (NOT COUGHING)

-Take care of yourself.

-Remember to smile. (He had drawn one, like he needed the reference.)

-BASIC FUNCTIONS: Clothes, shoes, three meals a day (at least two)

-Remember to BREATHE.


She closed her eyes, and folded the note and she replaced it.

I almost choked that goddamned alligator to death on those peanuts.

She didn’t really need the note to tell her that, but it drove the matter home. David wouldn’t have written a note, not about pretending to be okay. He wouldn’t have understood the concept. (But I need you to love me. How will you know that if I’m pretending I’m okay?) Well, maybe he would’ve done that and left it somewhere she could find it so she’d feel sorry for him, he was a clever person, but she wouldn’t have to sneak it like this.

This was a new thing and she thought maybe a more dangerous thing, because it was so quiet.

She regarded the closed door, frowning. Well, it made a noise just now, thank gods, and that was enough to realize she needed to adjust her approach, and fast. She had also exacted a promise that it would make future noises if it should require assistance and she’d have to wait and see how that turned out.

What does an alligator even eat? What did David feed that alligator of his? He had that before I was there… Oh, gods, probably croissants or some stupid thing…

It didn’t matter about David’s alligator. This was Mordecai’s alligator and apparently it was trying to kill him.

She was trying like hell to just be pissed off about this, but the part where she was scared and sad kept creeping up around the edges. She was a fixer of things — she was a goddamned medic, but beneath that, before that, she was a fixer of things. She had failed to fix a friend in pain to the point where he almost died on her, and she didn’t know how she was going to fix him now.

He didn’t seem to know what needed fixing, and she couldn’t do a touch-know on his stupid brain. Yeah, well, that doesn’t seem to be working right. Want me to patch it with some metal? Milo taught me how to do this really neat fold!

What would I do if he died?

That was a stupid question. She’d be sad about it and then she’d get along. Erik would need her. She’d have to learn a lot more about gods. But it wouldn’t destroy her, she’d manage.

That didn’t make it okay.

He’d been with her so long. Longer than anyone else in the house. Since the siege. Him and Erik, but Erik had been more of a small green object that cried a lot than a friend, at the beginning. She wasn’t quite sure how Mordecai had eeled his way into ‘friend’ status from ‘weird, stupid man with a serious lung problem’ but he was there now and there was no shifting him. This red guy in three-piece suit with a sharp tongue and a perceptive nature who played a ‘cello and helped out around the house, and loved Erik. Yeah, she could get along without him, or without anyone, but she really didn’t want to.

Well, I’m going to do stuff about this. She pointed a finger at the door and frowned at it. I dunno what stuff yet, but I am going to think of stuff and do it. So you… you just keep being here, and let me do stuff.

She didn’t think she was going to be able to do dinner. She found Ann and she asked Ann. That got her canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. (Was it possible that was all Ann knew how to make? Milo made pancakes that one time, but he’d had a cookbook open to the recipe. He found assembly instructions. Ann didn’t build things, and Hyacinth wasn’t sure how much she and Milo shared information back and forth.) She fed Barnaby and Room 101 and Mordecai, and the rest of the household was capable of feeding itself, more or less.

Hyacinth didn’t have much appetite, herself. She was trying to work out what to feed the alligator.

[Author’s Note: The Beatles are spelling out “NUJV” in semaphore on the original UK Parlophone cover of Help!]


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