"Puppy," someone says in his dream, and Shadow's eyebrows, even in sleep, broadcast trouble. The distress signal goes beep beep beep in the night, but there's nothing alive to answer. It's too cold, even, for rats in the walls.
But cold's just a lack of heat, and it's the familiar shape of the alien absence that wakes Shadow up, but he doesn't startle. He just opens his eyes.
Laura's fingers are brushing over his brow.
"Puppy," she says again, and Shadow knows there was no dream.
(Or there is no not-dream)
(It doesn't really matter)
"You always were bad at sleeping," she tells him, "before a big day." It's the kind of voice that might be reading out loud from the phone book.
"It never helps--" Shadow's voice is too thick with sleep, like cobwebs are stuck in his throat, so he coughs, "--when you stare at me, babe."
He's so cold, how can her fingers be even colder?
(Doesn't really matter)
"But I've always liked looking at you," Laura says, toneless, unblinking.
Shadow isn't sure what to say. Did you, really? or don't lie or did you like looking at Robbie better? It's hard to come to terms with your wife being dead, and it gets even harder each time she comes over to see you, save you, spook you.
And he's been busy. There's no time to come to terms with your wife fucking your best friend when death and then resurrection (or at least reanimation) are on the agenda of things to cope with.
It would be nice to have some time to be petty, get some closure.
Would have been nice to have some sugar-sad-sweet make up sex.
What Shadow settles on saying is,
"Welcome, Puppy. You look a little haunted."
"I guess," Shadow says, "This is a little hard, sometimes."
"Yeah, we've got to stop meeting like this," she says.
"It's scandalous," he agrees automatically.
And then they're quiet.
"...Was that a joke?" Shadow asks, finally.
"I appreciate it," Shadow says, before they lapse into a new silence. It's a lie, though: he doesn't appreciate the humor in that at all. Adultery was never funny, and Shadow thinks he'd be justified in feeling a little sensitive right now, if there was time for it.
Laura looks a little worse each time he sees her, but not much seems to have changed, this time. There's a lot to be said for mood lighting: in the dark, he can't see the worst of it. The rest he can almost pretend is because they're both tired. She's sick. Laura never did like winter, and those dark circles under her eyes could be from anything. Maybe she's allergic to something and he should offer to vacuum the floor, get some benadryl.
Prison's given Shadow a great sensory imagination, so he spends a little while thinking about stumbling out of the house at night, driving to some 24-hour pharmacy, standing under harsh lights and squinting at two dozen different color coded options. He'd be frustrated, and a little worried--maybe even a little cranky, by the time he got back. Then opening the flimsy cardboard box, peeling off the slick and horrible plastic, fumbling, finally opening the bottle, finding Laura asleep in their bed--
Things like that would be nice. Stupid little things that show someone you love them, tiny every day sacrifices on the altar of love. Things that get taken for granted after the rush of the first, oh, two weeks, maybe, with most people. He hasn't gotten to do that sort of thing in a very long time, because of prison, and now he'll never get to do them again, because she's dead.
Gods, gods, everywhere, and not a wish to drink.
His dead wife still hasn't moved, standing straight and still at the side of his bed, her cold hand still on his forehead.
"Laura?" Shadow asks, voice soft in the room, hushed like a child, "What would have happened? If you hadn't died?"
The silence is so long he wonders if she's somehow dead for good and frozen in place--
But then she opens her mouth and sighs with some air she's kept long trapped in her lungs. Graveyard dirt carries the scent of live maggot and leaf rot over him gently, spiked serrated-sharp with chemical notes that scream preservative.
Someone should sue that undertaker. Get some money back.
"I figure we would have finally gotten a puppy, Puppy."
Shadow swallows past the lump in his throat. It's still so cold, but behind his eyes is too warm.
"I always wanted something to keep on a leash," she says, "Besides you on my birthdays, I mean."
"Laura, that's not what I--"
"A fuzzy yellow one, maybe," Laura says, "Or one of those slick black ones--the ones that look like they're wearing tuxedos all the time."
Shadow aches to move away from her hand. Does she even know she's still holding it there?
"No," he says, "Laura--would you have stopped with Robbie? Really? Still seeing him every day?"
Shadow curls away, getting away from Laura's hand, and immediately regrets it.
"Maybe," Laura says, and of course she doesn't sound upset, doesn't sound anything at all, "I mean, I thought so at the time. But when you're dead, you don't feel as defensive, you know? You get pretty objective. Who can say?" A beat, and-- "Puppy, don't."
"I wasn't," Shadow says. "But that's it, then?"
"I love you," Laura says, "That's it."
"Would you have ever told me, or just let us work together, day in, day out--"
He cuts himself off, feeling foolish. What does it matter?
(Unless it does)
"I remember thinking we had enough to talk about for a long time, once you got back."
"Yeah," Shadow says, "There's that."
She surprises him then, almost as much as when she turned up back from the dead in the first place:
"What would you have done? If I'd told you?"
The question stuns Shadow, and it takes him a moment to untangle the snarl of things he feels--
"I don't know," he says, wondering at how he hasn't really thought it out, "I just wish it hadn't happened. Any of it. I miss you."
"You're sweet, Puppy."
"I don't know," he says again, "I would have--yelled, maybe?"
"No," Laura says, "No, you wouldn't have."
"Cried?" Shadow asks, tentative.
"No," Laura says, "You wouldn't have done that either, Puppy. You rarely do."
"...all right," Shadow concedes, "But I would have been upset. Quietly."
"There you go," Laura says. "That sounds mostly right."
"Maybe punched Robbie once or twice," Shadow adds.
"Just enough to make a point," Laura nods, "You might have. He'd have understood."
"And then..." Shadow trails off.
"And then we would be together," Laura says, "That's all that really matters, now."
Shadow tastes remembered daiquiri, sweet on her tongue tasting his, sharing--lets the memory chase down the cemetery scent that clings to Laura's skin. He closes his eyes.
"Yeah," he says.
He doesn't see it, but Laura turns her head to look out his small window, into the formless dark. Even if Shadow were watching, there's nothing out there for him to see.
"I should go," she says, already going towards the door, "but I want you to know, I like our talks."
"Okay," Shadow says, because it's no more bizarre than everything else in his life. He opens his eyes again.
"Our future, though--"
Shadow's heart wants to explode out of his chest--
"--the one that we're talking about," Laura finishes.
The hypothetical future, with no one dying.
"Yeah?" he says, and the thickness of his voice could almost still be sleep.
"We'd still need a puppy," Laura says, with a shrug, about to step out, "You lied to me, Shadow."
"What?" he whispers.
She smiles at him--for all that the smile is still a little dead and wrong, it hits Shadow in the weighted heart--and delivers her parting shot.
"You never did piss on my kitchen floor."