In which Liza pets a cat, Feron has a can opener, and Thane and Irikah watch TV.


Chapter 12 – Epidemic

Liza woke up with a pounding head. She coughed a few times as she got out of bed. "Great, I'm sick. I feel like I have a fever, too… Wonderful." She went into the bathroom and glared at her image in the mirror. "I look like crap. I feel like crap." She coughed again. "Alright, where are some meds? This is getting old."

She searched her medicine cabinet, but the cough medicine she found was long expired. She chucked it into the trash can. "Great. Guess I'm going to the drug store." She groaned. "That means I have to get dressed and go out. I feel awful… It's times like these when I wish I still lived with my parents."

A meow made her look down just as silky fur brushed her legs. She smiled and crouched, petting the cat's long, copper coat. "Hey, Bell. Momma's not feeling too good. I'm going to get something to get rid of this thing, and then I'll come home and give you breakfast. I promise I'll be fast."

Bell purred, looking up at Liza with tawny eyes. She scratched the cat's head. "You're such a sweetheart. Are you gonna help me get better when I come home? We can sit in front of the TV and watch documentaries on giraffes or something."

Bell meowed again and followed Liza to the closet, where she picked out a hoodie and jeans. She left her pajamas on the floor and bent down to stroke the cat again. "I'll be back soon. Be a good girl and watch the house, okay?" She left Bell behind and went out to her car.

She had no idea how it was possible, but she felt like she had gotten ten times worse by the time she reached the drug store. She went to the shelf that should have had the cough and headache medicines, but found it empty. "Oh, come on."

"Everybody's getting sick," a man nearby said. "Some nasty virus going around. It's not the season for it, so no one knows what it is. You're probably out of luck for cough medicine and that kind of stuff."

"Not even any cough drops?"

"All out. Best thing to do would probably be go home and sleep. Sorry."

"No, thank you. I don't have to waste any more time here. I can just go home…"

"Hope you feel better."

"Thanks." Dejected, she walked back out to her car.

Bell was waiting for her just inside the door once she got home. The cat stared up at her, meowing. "Alright, alright, I'll feed you. Pushy…"

Bell followed her into the kitchen and put her front paws up on Liza's leg as she opened a can of cat food. Drell and cat stared at each other. "…You weirdo." Liza set down the bowl and left Bell to eat. She went into the next room, settling down on the couch and throwing the blanket resting on the back of it over herself. She shivered. "Temp's going whacky… Hope it blows over soon."

She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping through channel after channel. "Seen it, seen it, depressing, rerun of a rerun, bad, okay but scary, chick flick, seen it… Dammit. Isn't there anything on?" She set down the remote when Bell jumped up on the couch with her.

She scratched the cat's head. "Hey, sweetie. How was breakfast?" Bell purred, and Liza chuckled. "You're so cute. What would I do without you?" She drew her hand back under the blanket and coughed, Bell curling into a ball near her feet. "I guess that means I'm staying put for a while, huh? That's fine with me, even though I should probably be getting something to eat and drink. Oh, well."

Bell yawned and settled down to doze off. Liza coughed, but smiled. "Yeah, sleep sounds like a good idea." She shifted until she was comfortable and quickly fell fast asleep.


Feron looked back over his shoulder when he heard the door to the apartment open. He got up from the couch and faced the one who'd entered. "Hey, kiddo. Did you have fun?"

"Duh, they're my friends." Khash dropped his keys on the nearby table and made for the kitchen. "I think I'm coming down with something, though. It might be that thing going around. Teige was sick, too, so he couldn't make it."

"That's not good." Feron followed Khash and put a hand on his forehead. "…You feel warm."

"Yeah, well, I'm cold. I'm making some soup."

"Why don't you go lie down, and I'll make the soup?" Feron grabbed the can out of his son's hand.

Khash gave him a look. "I'm not that sick."

"You've got a fever and chills. Go lie down. I'll bring you your soup."

"…Thanks, Dad. Can you bring some pain pills, too? I feel like I got hit in the head with an axe."

"Sure thing." He watched Khash leave the kitchen, then dug out the can opener. Everyone getting sick… It wasn't the right time of year. What kind of virus would –

Wait. Virus.

Feron nearly dropped the can. He looked down, shaking his head slowly. "Kalihira… Please don't take my boy…"

He could only hope he was wrong.


Irikah was putting the finishing touches on a fruit salad when Thane crept up behind her and snatched her into a hug. "Oh! Thane! Don't startle me like that! I almost dropped the oranges!" She looked over her shoulder at him. "Why do you have to be so sneaky?"

"I'm a spy, Irikah. Being sneaky is my day job." He smiled.

She did, too, and leaned her head back onto his shoulder. "How is it that we're still so in love after twenty-one years?"

"Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I've never been home unless grievously injured?"

"Right, so now we get to see how the marriage holds up when you're here and healthy. Excuses, excuses."

"Now you get to see my flaws."

"I know your flaws, dear. You're a stubborn ass with no regard for your own wellbeing, and you're a bit too formal at times."

"Formal?"

"Formal. Lighten up, mister. Now will you let me finish lunch before Kolyat gets home?"

"I suppose I must." He let go.

She smiled and kept peeling oranges. "So how much more time off do you think you have, exactly?"

"A while yet. Why?" He watched her, hands folded behind his back.

"I was just thinking that maybe we could finally go on our honeymoon." She looked back at him, a glint in her eye.

Thane's expression, however, became unsure. "What about Kolyat?"

Irikah sighed. "He's a grown man, Thane. He'll be fine."

"I suppose…"

"Making up for lost time includes me, too, you know."

"…You're right. My apologies."

"Apology accepted – if you take me on that honeymoon."

Thane smiled. "That's fair."

Irikah mixed the orange slices in with the rest of the fruit, then washed her sticky hands and used a large spoon to scoop the fruit from the single large bowl into three smaller ones. She then picked two of the bowls up. "Dear, get that last one and bring it to the table, would you?"

Thane nodded and picked up the last bowl, setting it down on Kolyat's placemat as Irikah put the other two down in front of Thane's seat and her own. "Now?" He looked to her for further direction.

"Now I put that other bowl in the sink, and we relax a bit." She vanished into the kitchen again. He waited, listening to the water running for a short while before she emerged again. "You didn't have to just stand there, Thane."

"I felt like it. Now how are we relaxing?"

"I don't know, sit in front of the TV and be lazy, maybe?" She wandered into the living room.

He shook his head and followed. "If you insist."

"Oh, yes. Now sit." She settled onto the couch.

He sat beside her, putting his arm over the back of the couch, behind her head. "Anything but the news."

"All hype and sensationalism, I know." She grabbed the remote and started flipping channels.

They passed the news, but Thane caught one word that made him grab Irikah's hand and say quickly, "Go back."

"What? Why? You just told me not to watch the news."

"Please, Irikah, and quickly."

"If you're sure…" She flipped back.

"…Already killed more than six thousand people," the reporter said, "though the true death toll may be higher, as many of these deaths are happening in private homes rather than hospitals. The victims have mostly been soldiers who had recently returned from the northern front. However, the mystery virus is spreading quickly, making it likely that the deaths will continue."

"No," Thane mumbled, eyes wide. Irikah watched him, concerned.

"Doctors are advising people to stay in their homes as much as possible. If you are sick, treat the symptoms as best you can with basic over-the-counter medications, and get as much rest as possible. Do not go to the hospital, as there is nothing doctors can do to treat the disease at this time. If you aren't sick, try to stay away from those who are, and wash your hands frequently-"

Thane shot to his feet. "We have to get out of here."

Irikah looked up at him. "Settle down, dear…"

"No, Irikah, we have to leave. We have to get away from other people before we get sick."

She stood and tried to put a hand on his cheek, but he slapped it away. "Darling, please, you're panicking needlessly-"

"I have plenty of reason to panic, Irikah! I know what's going on!"

"Thane…!"

The front door opened, and Kolyat stepped inside. "Mom, Dad? I don't think I'm going back to class today." He coughed. "I think I'm getting sick."

Irikah and Thane both stared at him, silent. Thane's heart shattered.


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. Ferret out.