She watched as her home fell gently into place, seeing the light fade rapidly from the rope, feeling strange. She was so weak, her body drained, the Stone falling back slowly to her chest, arms folding beneath her as she finally collapsed. The rats still living surrounded her, shocked beyond belief; one of them, the tallest, knelt by her side, remaining there as the rest of the crowd dispersed, unable to take his eyes from her slumbering form. His clothing was torn, damp, and bloody, a crude bandage wrapped around his upper arm. He dared not take his eyes from her, for fear she would vanish.
That…was incredible…the events of that night flashed through his mind, forcing him to recall his leader's death, and that of his own brother. Sullivan gave his life for mine…they had never gotten along, even in childhood, but apparently the bond hadn't been severed. But now Jenner was also gone. That much he was grateful for, no matter what people said. Jenner was a demon, and deserved to rot in hell. He watched as the last drops of rain fell from the sky, mixing with his tears. The small drops felt strange. He couldn't remember the last time he'd shed them, but too much had happened tonight for him not to cry.
He sighed, seeing the mouse slumber beside him. She was young, lovely, and normal. She was a widow, with four children slumbering in the cinderblock. He knew somehow they had to be alive, probably because his heart would accept nothing less. There was a small tap on his shoulder. He looked back to see the doctor, leaning on his wooden crutch.
"Let's take her inside," he said. "She'll catch her death out here." The guard could do little more than nod in agreement, taking the girl in his arms, holding her as though she were a newborn. But he hesitated a while before following Ages, not wanting to leave her so soon. She moaned softly in her sleep, lids fluttering for barely a second. He smiled, holding her tightly to his chest, feeling her heart beat against his. She sighed, warmth hitting his face. He hadn't noticed until then how close his face was to hers. Their lips had almost touched. He pulled away, following slowly after his mentor.
"I'll send for you, when she wakes up," the doctor told him, once they were inside. Justin laid her in her small bed, hearing the faint sound of a crutch as the old man went to check on the children. That left him alone with their mother, the creature that had captured his attention. He reached down, taking a slim gold chain in his hands, gently pulling the Stone from her neck, laying it at the foot of her bed. It felt like hours had passed before Ages returned, watching the youth resist his desires, wondering what was happening.
"You best be off," he told Justin. He placed a hand on the rat's shoulder. "They need you more than she does."
Justin nodded, reluctantly, rising to his feet. He was gone a few minutes later, rushing to the bush where destruction was taking place, where he had lived most of his adult life. As he tore out wires and scattered debris, his mind wandered to the past day, when he'd first met her, when he'd first heard her soft voice…
"Justin?" a young female, Isabella, touched his hand, seeing the distracted look in his eyes, wondering what was bothering him. "Is everything…okay?"
He shrugged, bending to gather a few meaningless things. "I'm just tired," he said without thinking. It was a lie, but one he knew she'd believe. She was madly in love with him, a fact he'd grown tired of, though he wasn't yet ready to tell her the truth. He looked away when he felt tears forming again, hearing her steps move back into the hall. He stayed in the bush less than an hour, going through the back entrance when no one was looking, emerging by the farmhouse. The windows were dark, the humans and their cat asleep. The clouds had moved away, revealing a perfect night sky.
It'll be hard to leave, he realized, again thinking about all that had happened. He had helped in designing and building their colony, before he'd moved on to defending it. The bush's tangled halls held so many memories, some faded so he thought they were dreams, but hours of his life nonetheless; but now he had to leave this place behind, go on to a home rich in seclusion, where he and the others could live as they pleased. Knowing it would be his last chance to see the farm, he strayed from the scattered roses, heading off in a random direction. He came to a stream that would be gone before morning, lying in the long grass on its bank, staring at the moon and pale stars.
The night was so beautiful, so peaceful, but the placid air did little to calm him. He sighed, feeling his mind race, thinking about all that had happened, who he had met since that morning. He sighed, hands moving beneath his head, wincing at the pain in his arm. At some point he'd changed uniforms, but he couldn't recall when. The light wind drifted through his fur, bringing so many pleasant scents, including one he hadn't known until that afternoon. He sat up, seeing a small shadow approach him, watching the dim light glint off something she had in her hands. "Justin…"
He barely had time to rise before she came, jumping in his arms with a gasp of joy. He held the mouse tightly to his chest, enjoying the warmth forming in his veins.
"Oh, Justin," she whispered. She rested her head on his shoulder, eyes slowly coming open. "I thought you had left…"
"I wouldn't leave without seeing you again," he said, releasing his hold on her. He knelt down so their eyes were even, grasping her paws firmly. Around her neck the warm Stone glittered proudly. She smiled, blushing as she stared at the ground. He tilted her chin back with his hand, surprised to see tears.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "About all of this. You lost your leader and your home because of me…"
"Don't think that way," he said gently. He brushed stray hair from her eyes. "What happened tonight couldn't be helped; you did nothing."
She sniffled, barely able to look at him. "I shouldn't have come."
He sighed, once again taking her hands. "Mrs. Brisby, if you hadn't come to us, your family would be in grave danger, and so would my colony. You prevented disasters by coming to us."
Her perfect eyes blinked once. She reached up to pull the gold chain from her neck, settling it around his. "You need this more than I do," she whispered, hands still on his chest.
"Mrs. Brisby, I-"
"Please take it." She insisted. "I know Jonathan made it for me but it…it frightens me. I don't think I could handle that much power…"
He glanced down at it, watching the gem move with his breath, the light pulsing as though attached to his heart. He then looked at her, images of such tenderness flowing through his mind that he nearly lost control. Instead of doing what he longed to, however, he rested his forehead against hers, sighing tenderly. "Tell me your name," he whispered.
"It's…Elizabeth," she said quietly. Her hands were locked behind his head, his arms warm around her. She moved closer, so barely an inch remained between them. "Promise me," she hissed. "Promise me you'll be safe, that this isn't good bye…"
"I promise," he whispered. He wanted to kiss her, to tell her how he felt, but she moved away before he could say another word, hand slipping slowly from his grasp. He didn't try to pull her back.