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Nine Lives

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Rollo is there. Watching. Ludger is about to cry. He knows the signs. It’s like that day years ago. Ludger is crouched over him and his clothes are heavy with rainwater and his tears wet Rollo’s fur. It’s cold and thunder cracks overhead as Julius turns into the alleyway, face fraught with worry that melts into relief as Ludger comes into his line of vision.

Julius… Ludger doesn’t think he understands. But he knows. He can feel it. It isn’t like the times Julius works late, or goes out shopping for ingredients for tonight’s dinner, or gets caught up talking with someone on the streets. Julius won’t come back. Not this time.

Rollo stares and tilts his head. Ludger grasps Elle’s hand and kisses her hair and lets the tears spill over. A second later and she’s gone. In the blink of an eye. Rollo dips his head and meows, long and slow. Ludger’s tears fall into empty space.

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Ludger is hurting. They both are. Everyday Julius’ eyes grow duller and his skin darker. The third day his hand is engulfed. On the eleventh it’s up to his elbow. Three weeks and it nears his shoulder. Ludger can’t stop crying and it’s all Julius can do to pet his hair with calloused hands and whispers meaningless lies into the corner of his mouth.

I’m okay.

We’re okay.

We’re fine.

It’s all going to be alright.

I promise I promise I promise-

Rollo rubs against his leg and purrs soothingly. They fall asleep and they’re kids again; cradled in each other’s arms, warm and everything that the other needed them to be. Sad, sad kids who deserved so much better than they got in the end. Fucked up kids with blood crusted under their fingernails, who no longer lay awake at night, shaking and scared after running an anonymous soldier through.  Who no longer cared what happened outside their own, precious world.

Rollo nuzzles between them, nudging his nose under their twined fingers and giving a sad meow, because he knows that their time is up.

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Rollo is lulled awake by the sound of the waves slapping against the sand, inconsistent cries of seabirds, Elle’s sweet voice as she chattered over the phone to Alvin.

Pollo is curled up beside him, small and vulnerable. Rollo finds himself comparing that vulnerability to Ludger’s, then he stops. Even after years of the empty emotion looming over him, Rollo still isn’t used to it. He doubts he’ll ever be. And images of those last few moments flood his mind once again; Elle is sobbing, holding herself to Ludger’s waist with desperation and every time she cries Rollo feels the echo run through his body in tremors. She sobbing and sobbing and then it’s bright. Bright, and Ludger’s gone. Like a wave tossed in the ocean.

Then Rollo’s back and Pollo is mewing into his fur, here and real and alive. Rollo’s ear twitches as Elle clicks her tongue.

“Let’s go Pollo! We’ve got a job!” She smiles and Rollo thinks it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Then she’s skipping off. She’s ready. She finally doesn’t need him anymore.

Her humming fills the air and Rollo lays his head in his paws. His eyes slip shut. He meows, little more than a croak, and he follows Ludger and Julius into the sun.