Gato met Nina at the spaceport when she returned from New Amsterdam. The trip had gone well, and she chattered happily at him as they waited for the train home.

"...My sister's expecting her first baby. She held the news until I got there, which was really sweet of her, don't you think?"

She kept going with the constant talk as they rode back into the city.

"They're happy to hear that I've met somebody new, and I think they do understand why I'm being quiet about it. After all, no other boyfriend's stayed with me very long."

Anavel sighed deeply and hazarded a guess as to why. Her prattle continued even after they'd reached their apartment.

"My parents' new house really is very nice. It's smaller because it's just them now, but it's better set up than any place I've ever lived in with them." Nina stopped to take a breath before launching into a description of the house until something prompted her to notice that Gato had hardly said a word. At first she thought it was because she'd been jabbering nonstop since she'd arrived. Then she saw the expression on her lover's face as he hung up his jacket.

She couldn't quite identify it. He didn't look angry exactly, and he didn't look merely sad. It was very close to the look he'd had when gazing from the Zaku towards Side 3.

"Something's wrong," she said.

"I had a lot of time to think over the weekend," Gato told her.

Nina sat down on the couch. "You're leaving me. What did I do?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm not leaving you. I just started to wonder, Nina, do you ever stop to wonder if what you do is right?"

"What do you mean?"

He sat down. "You know I'm bound by a non-disclosure agreement because sensitive material does sometimes come down to the mailroom shredder. Well, something came down there that upset me. A lot. It was a sketch of a Gundam called the Physalis."

Nina's eyes almost popped out of her head. "How did that get in there?"

"I don't know. I don't put the paper there, I just shred it. Anyway, it was very apparent to me that it's meant to be a radiation-proof mobile suit."

"I won't confirm or deny that, Anavel."

"I'm not going to ask you to. I know that Jion does not have any nuclear weapons. So there is no need for a radiation-proof Gundam against them. The only reason to have such a thing is if the Federation, of which I know Luna is not a member, has nuclear weapons of its own and wants to use them in combat, combat which includes this Physalis prototype." He paced back and forth. "Unless the Federation is afraid of an invasion of little green men from Mars, packing nukes. Somehow, I think that's rather unlikely. Don't you?"

Nina's eyes narrowed. "I cannot and will not discuss this with you, Anavel Gato. To answer your very first question, no. I don't think about whether what I do is right or wrong. I design mobile suits because I love them. I will not give that up for anyone or anything. If the Federation wants a radiation-proof suit, I design it. If they want one that only a New Type can pilot, I'll make it for them. I don't design the weaponry, I only create a mobile suit that will handle that weaponry without damaging my beautiful machine."

She stood and walked away from him. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a shower. Here's the Sunday paper. You might want to start looking for another job if you're going to have this kind of moral crisis about working at Anaheim."

Nina did pause for one moment to look back at him from the bathroom door. "One last thing, Anavel, and I'm saying this as a neutral Lunarian. I respect the Zabi regime for being the ones to invent the mobile suit. Nonetheless, your side lost. Get over it." With that, she closed the door behind her.

"What a fucking bitch," Kelly commented as Gato recounted the story to him in a seedy dive bar in the lower depths of the city. "I mean, I can tell Laetura's thought that a few times, but she'd never go so far as to say it."

"Laetura's got much more to lose than Nina." Gato took another sip of his gin and tonic. "Anyway, what do I do now, Kelly? What's the proper next step after she's said something that wretchedly ugly to me?"

Kelly thought about it. "You love Nina?"

"I think so."

"You like the sex?"


"You got another place to sleep?"


"Well there you go. She's right in a way, our side did lose. But we don't have to accept that, or I wouldn't be working on my little project in the garage. But Nina can't know that. She just thinks you're being obsessive. So go home to your woman like I'm going to go home to mine, and don't say a word about it. You were mad, it's blown over now. That's all she needs to know."

"That's what I'll do then," Gato said, and finished his drink.

Nina was already in bed when he returned home. As Gato undressed, he noticed the pile of crumpled tissues in the garbage can on her side of the bed. She'd been crying, and that made him feel much better. He slid under the covers and Nina automatically wriggled into his arms.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have thrown that in your face like I did."

"Don't think about it," Gato said, stroking her hair. "We'll just forget it ever happened."

Time passed.

August 15, the 11th anniversary of the establishment of the Kingdom of Jion, arrived. Jion refugees from all around Von Braun showed up to Kelly's junkyard, needing private property in order to avoid asking for a city permit to meet. Nina and Laetura grumbled as they found themselves in the kitchen serving up gallons of potato salad and cole slaw that they were grateful were purchased from a restaurant supply house. The mostly male crowd outside was jovial though, playing volleyball, musical instruments, and getting drunk over happier memories of the One Year War.

"I took off work for THIS?" Nina snarled as she and Laetura dragged off another load of dirty paper plates.

"Get used to it, hun. This is what you and I married," Laetura told her.

"You married it. I didn't."

"Give it time! I saw how Anavel was looking at you earlier today."

Nina dropped the paper plates into the garbage bin, pushed her hair back from her face and smiled. "We had an unusually good time this morning before we came over here."

"So did me and Kelly." Laetura leaned back against the fence behind her. "I guess today gives them a chance to pretend that their country's not gone."

"Laetura," Nina started, leaning against the fence too, "do you have a hard time, I don't know, keeping Kelly from wishing his life away? Anavel keeps acting as if the war might start again, and that's the thing he wants most in the world."

Laetura sighed. "Yeah. Except even if it did, Kelly would have to stay here with me because of his arm. I never thought I'd be happy my husband was crippled, but I am. He's got to stay with me. He's got no choice."

The afternoon wore into night. Nina and Laetura settled down in the living room with a chick flick, ignoring the Jions outside who were all six sheets to the wind by then.

Then suddenly, it was quiet except for the sound of a hundred voices murmuring in unison. The two women looked outside. The yard was illuminated now with torches, causing the space to be an interplay of flame and shadow. The Jions had gathered together in groups of four, left hands piled together, right hands raised in oath.

"What're they doing?" Laetura asked.

"I think they're renewing their vows," said Nina.

Outside, Gato stood with Kelly's left sleeve clutched in his fingers as the left hands of two other Jions rested on his own. The boozy hollow-headed feeling, which had led to him feeling quite cheery earlier, now suddenly added a profundity to the moment which struck him to the bone. Just for the moment, the Federation had not won. Just for the moment, Anavel Gato was united with his brothers and sisters in pride and dignity again, even here on this barren rock which was the home of mercenary cowards. The spirit of Jion was not dead. It was merely sleeping, recovering its strength for the future.

"...against all manner of folk," their low voices finished. "So help me God."

A single voice suddenly cried out, "Never again A Bao A Qu!"

"NEVER AGAIN!" came the unanimous response. They released each others' hands and stood with arms linked in a circle around the yard. While several had been playing music earlier, the instruments were now set aside as they raised their voices in song:

Jion people, called now to battle/ Take up the armour and weapon/ And shake now the Earth's very centre/ With the sonorous sound of cannon. And shake now the Earth's very centre/ With the sonorous sound of cannon!

Oh, Fatherland, crown-ed/ by an angel with wreaths of laurels/ for in heaven your future is written/ by the very finger of God!

For if ever foreigners dare then/ To profane your sanctified soil/ Oh Fatherland, sacred duty/ Makes us all into soldiers for you!

At the second line, Gato's own throat had tightened with emotion and he'd only been able to mouth the words. Yes. Jion would arise again, with a Zabi monarch to lead it. Someday, they would have their country.

Although as he brushed his teeth that night, trying to get the sour taste of far too many beers from it before Nina complained, he reflected that it was very strange that Tetley hadn't made an appearance.

Time passed.

Christmas arrived. This had always been Gato's favourite time of year, but the first thought in his head Christmas morning was, "Dozel Zabi died today." He did not share his thoughts with Nina. They exchanged gifts. She went with him to church. He pretended to be happy. They went to Kelly's and Laetura's for dinner and Gato found to his dismay that Kelly's happy-husband act was convincing because it was real.

"Can't help it. I've just been feeling really good lately," Kelly said as they clandestinely sipped bourbon in the warehouse. "The business is doing all right and Laetura's turning out to be a really good partner. You were right. She is proud of me. I think that maybe being a small business owner might suit me."

"So a job and a wife are all you've needed to be happy?" Gato asked.

"Looks that way," Kelly told him.

Gato looked down. "What's wrong with me, then?"

"Why don't you quit Anaheim? You got what you went there for."

"I don't know what else to do with myself. I've never been anything but a soldier. I went straight from the Academy into war. I have no skills except those related to warfare. Unless Delaz sends for me, I'm completely useless. Do you know that I've never lived by myself? I went from my parents, to the Academy, into the service, then onto the street with you. And now I'm with Nina." He took a slug of bourbon. "I'm like a child, Kelly. It was hard to admit to myself, but I am. Just a 23 year-old, six foot, mewling--"

Kelly punched him. His single arm had become immensely powerful to compensate for the loss of the other, so his punch was like a kick from a mule. Gato flew five feet and landed on the cement floor.

"Look, will you quit with this self-pitying bullshit?" Kelly yelled at him. "You got out alive, didn't you? You got a job, don't you? You're sleeping with a girlfriend who makes a lot of money, and she's a piece of ass, right? So shut up. You're making me wonder which one of us is really the maimed one."

Gato sat up slowly. He picked up the fallen bottle, got to his feet, and didn't say anything more.

New Year's Eve found Gato drinking silently at home. Nina sat with him for a while, then decided to go join her Anaheim co-workers at a bar downtown. He nodded his assent and remained on the couch with a bottle of gin, watching the hands of the clock on the wall pass midnight. He remembered Admiral Delaz's burning eyes as the older man had forbidden him to fly to his death at A Bao A Qu. "For now you must endure..."

Well, he was enduring all right, but for what? Tetley was nowhere to be seen, and the only Delaz contact was Cima Garahau, who occasionally sent mobile armour parts to Kelly. Damned if Gato was going to have anything to do with that genocidal whore of Kishiria's.

He spent the next day in bed with a very real hangover. Nina was not quite as miserable, so she occupied herself with nursing him. By evening they were both recovered enough to share a pizza, after which they passed the remaining hours of the day making love.

As he fell asleep with his head pillowed against Nina's breasts, Gato thought, so this is it. This is the rest of my life. He fell into restless dreams.

At lunch the next day, Gato found a job posting for a mailroom supervisor at Anaheim's Livermore plant. It was more remote, but the money was good enough to make up for the inconvenience. He applied and had the job a month later. He was told on being accepted that the reason he'd been chosen was because he'd been an officer, used to both giving and receiving orders. With two professional incomes flowing into the bank, he and Nina started saving up for a house.

Time passed.

"Hi honey, I'm home!" Nina called from the front door as she came in from another Saturday working at Anaheim.

"I'm in the kitchen," Gato called back. Nina dropped off her briefcase and joined him in there as she undid her uniform jacket.

"What's for dinner?"

"Chicken piccata with roast potatoes and green beans."

"Ooh. Anavel Gato, I am the luckiest woman in the world." She went to the bedroom area and started changing. "You're not getting mad at me for how much I'm working, are you?"

"No. I knew from the start you love your job. I'd be selfish to deny you that."

"Okay. Listen, a bunch of the girls and their significant others are going out dancing tonight. I'd like to go, so of course, I need you."

"Sure." They had dinner, went out dancing, and came home and went to bed.

Gato woke up screaming. He made up a story to Nina about dreaming he was back at A Bao A Qu, but the fact was that the dream had simply been that his parents had told him they were ashamed of him, and walked away, deaf to his protests.

He couldn't figure out why. Work was fine. It was much easier now that he didn't have the secondary job of being an industrial spy. He took in the mail, he kept the books on office supplies, he made sure all the deliveries ran smoothly. It was a highly-detailed job and it kept him occupied. He made friends with the other guys in the mailroom and finally had men other than just Kelly to drink with. They went to football games together. He returned home every night to his beautiful Nina, although sometimes she was still at the office, working on her projects.

He woke up in a cold sweat at least once a week, so he took to having a glass of whiskey before bedtime. Nina didn't seem to mind at first; she liked how it made him more relaxed and less inhibited. Eventually, though, it began to worry her, a situation that led to their second serious fight.

"I don't understand," she pleaded during it. "Why can't you just be happy, dammit?"

He'd given in. "That's what Kelly has said, too."

The next day on the bus, it struck Gato what was missing, what Kelly had that he didn't. He took a day off, not telling Nina, and headed for the pawn shops.

There were plenty of engagement rings there, all within his budget. Jions generally didn't go for the diamond solitaire favoured in North America, but since he didn't know what kind of stone Nina liked, he decided that one would do. As he was poring over a tray, he heard a familiar voice.

"Only 50 credits? This is a solid platinum Academy ring!"

The man behind the counter was arguing with a woman in a Jion service overcoat. It was travel-stained and her short blonde hair was less than clean.

"Do you know how many of those things we get in a week?" the man said. "It's all you Jeeks have to sell. 50's my best offer."

"Monica van der Kant?" Gato asked.

"Anavel Gato?" her blue eyes lit up and she rushed forward to hug him. "I thought for sure you were dead!"

"How did you get here?"

Well, after you went to A Bao A Qu, I was stationed in Granada, assigned to the test unit there. That's where I was at war's end. I hung on there, I was on duty during the signing of the peace treaty-what a clusterfuck that was, Gato! Then I was the last Jion in Granada, taking down the flag, as it were. They just ejected all of us two weeks ago."

"Ejected all of you know an officer named Tetley?"

She shook her head. "Sorry. Anyway, I'm just here to sell my ring, try to get some money to go home."

"You know there's a ton of anti-Zabi propaganda waiting for you there."

She nodded. "Yeah. But what can I say? I really want to go home, and I don't care what I have to do to make it."

Gato reached into his pocket for the cash he'd intended to buy Nina's ring. He pressed it into Monica's hand. "Don't sell your Academy ring. Never do that. Take this money, use it to buy a ticket home."

"You sure, Gato?"

"I'm sure."

She looked down at the bills in her hand. "Um, do you think you could spare some for a meal, too?"

"I'll do you one better. Come on to my place. I'll feed you and wash your clothes."

"Do you know," she asked, "that the only thing I have that's clean is my uniform?"

"Then that's what you should wear on the journey home," Gato told her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

Nina came home early. She took in the sight of a recently-showered woman dressed only in Nina's own bathrobe, sitting at the table, waiting for Nina's own boyfriend to finish preparing some food.


Gato emerged from the kitchen and set a plate down in front of Monica. "Nina, Lt. Monica van der Kant.

"Hi, Nina!" Monica chirped.

"Monica was stationed with me on Solomon. I found her on the street today and I'm just getting her set up to go home to Side 3."

Nina's paranoia seemed to abate a little. "She's in my bathrobe."

"It was that or me being naked," Monica said. "Neither of us thought you'd like that very much. All my clothes are in the wash."

The buzzer sounded and Gato went off to reach into the dryer. Nina dropped her briefcase by the computer and went to the bathroom, refusing to talk to Monica any further. As she was in there, she heard the front door buzzer go off.

"Oh good, the Zabis aren't dead, they're just coming to live in my apartment," Nina groused as she flushed. When she came back into the main room, Monica was in her bra and briefs and in the process of stepping into her trousers. Gato was sliding her epaulets onto the shoulders of her tunic as Kelly Layzner looked on, truck keys in hand.

"Do you always just get naked in front of each other?" Nina asked.

All three Jions snickered. "Somebody's never lived in tight quarters on Solomon," Kelly observed.

"Where else was I supposed to change?" Monica asked. "It's not like I've never been in the shower with these two hooligans before." She ruffled Gato's hair like a dog's.

Nina went into the kitchen and started heating up a frozen entree as Monica finished dressing in her green uniform. She draped her overcoat over her arm and hugged Gato. "Thanks for everything, Lieutenant."

"My pleasure, van der Kant. You've got the letter for my parents?"

She pointed to the leg of her boot. "Right here. If they've moved, I'll find them."

"Thank you."

"Come on, the flight leaves at midnight, and you still have to get a ticket," Kelly said. Monica waved again as she followed him out.

A cold silence hung over the room, like the kind of frigidity which keeps snow from falling. Nina sat down and ate her frozen dinner as Gato washed up. It was almost a relief when Nina snarled, "So, why weren't you at work today?"

"I took a day off for some errands, but I didn't get anything done," he said.

"What kind of errands?"

"I was going to do some shopping for the house and surprise you, but I ran into Monica on the street and it didn't happen."

"Look, I know that you can't turn away one of your old war buddies who needs help. Still, a lot of times I feel like there's no Nina and Anavel. There's Nina and the One Year War. I'm not living with a man, I'm living with a piece of history, something that ought to be in a glass case in a museum. I don't want a museum piece in my life, Anavel. I want a boyfriend, somebody who might become my husband someday. Is that so unreasonable?"

It wasn't. Gato had to grant her that. "No. It makes perfect sense."

"Then act like it!" She raised her hands to her forehead in frustration, then lowered them again. "Tell me one thing, though. If something happened, I don't know, it turned out Garma Zabi were really still alive, and he called for a war to re-take Side 3 from the Federation, would you go along with it? Would you leave me and follow him?"

Gato raised his chin. "Of course. He'd be my sovereign and I'd follow him until death."

"Dammit!" Nina stomped to the closet and grabbed Gato's dufflebag. She hurled it at him and the plastic box containing his uniform clattered to the floor.

They both stared down at it for a long moment. Nina made the first move by hitching her skirt above her knees and kicking it like a soccer ball to the other side of the room.

Gato went to grab the precious box, clutching it to his chest. Nina was already moving, scooping his clothes out of his dresser drawers and dumping them in the duffle. She was pulling his work clothes off hangers when she looked at him and sobbed, "Why aren't you stopping me?"

"Give me a reason why I should," Gato responded as he tucked the box into the duffle.

Nina marched over to the bed and snatched the Jion flag from the wall. She balled it up and hurled it in his face. Gato was pulling it off and trying to fold it swiftly when Nina grabbed his duffle, hit the button to open the window, and let it fly.

What a tactician, he fumed as he ran down the emergency stairs, flag still in hand. Nina had found a way to get him out of the apartment without giving him a chance to say a word. He had to get that bag. It was imperative. He raced out the door and around the corner, finding that it already had a curious teen on a bicycle investigating the contents. Gato delivered a furious kick to the bike, sending the kid to the sidewalk, and grabbed the bag. He had the keys he needed for work, his flag, most of his clothes, and his uniform. Everything else could be replaced. As he walked to the bus stop, he glanced up at Nina's window. She wasn't looking out.

"Nina threw your shit out the window and you didn't throw her out after it?" Kelly said over the phone later.

Gato was in a hotel room, a room service meal untouched in front of him. "If I did that, I couldn't get my stuff."

"Who cares? It's the principle of the thing. If Laetura did that, I'd toss her in the metal crusher."

"Kelly! Is she listening?"

"Laetura would never do that. She's too sensible. So what're you going to do?"

"Get a furnished place. I figure she probably wants me to come crawling back, and damned if I'm going to do that. We were just plain bad for each other."

He went to work the next day and received a note from Nina in company mail. He tossed it in the shredder, unread. He found a furnished one-bedroom that was more expensive than he would have liked, but it was a short walk from work and he didn't anticipate going out much. As soon as he was alone inside he hung his flag over the bed, steamed his uniform and hung it up in the closet as if he were going to put it on the next day. Gato smiled, a feeling of pure tranquility filling his heart.

Once that was done, though, there was nothing else. Gato went to work. He went drinking with the guys. He came home. A few times a week he worked out. He occasionally read what was going into the shredder at the Livermore plant, but there was no one asking him about it so his interest in that soon waned.

Finally, a beacon of hope arrived in the form of a letter from Monica van der Kant, addressed to "Supervisor, Mail Room, Anaheim Electronics, Livermore Plant". He tore it open. There was a letter from Monica herself inside, folded around several sheets of cream-coloured stationery. Gato set Monica's letter aside for later and started devouring the contents of the other one, written as it was in his mother's neat cursive:

Dear Son.

How grateful we are to hear from you. Your father and I have been praying for your safety every night. We're both well, a little tired perhaps, but no worse than that. Once the Republic was declared, your father was taken into custody for a month, but he wasn't harmed. He was a general overseeing paperwork for the Reserves, so the Feddies bored with him quickly and released him. He lost his military pension and we had to sell the house. We're in an apartment now, but the balcony is large so I can still do my gardening. Your father has decided to take a degree in chemistry, just to have something to do.

Zum City is a sad place these days, and we're thinking about moving somewhere else. The Zabis were never too bad about building monuments to themselves, but now every statue or painting of His Majesty is gone. Instead, we have to look at Prime Minister-oh pardon me, PRESIDENT Darcia's smiling face whenever we go to the post office. Far be it from me to say a harsh word about anyone, but the man is an opportunist and a quisling and I can't wait to be rid of him. They destroyed statues of Giren Zabi first. Rumour has it they shot his mistress and his cats the night the surrender was signed. However there was a huge howl of protest when they went after the statues of Garma, which of course were only put up after the poor boy died, so they left those alone. For now.

Do you think going to Axis would be possible for us? Maybe you could go too, and we could be a family again, living under a Zabi monarch. I know life there is not easy; Princess Zena died nursing the sick during an outbreak of diptheria when the sanitation systems overloaded. I'm sure that's been taken care of now although it's a good thing this apartment has gotten us used to cramped spaces.

The girl Monica who brought this to us says you're living with your girlfriend. You know what your father and I think of that arrangement, so I won't waste ink here. But rest assured, that is the only area where you have disappointed us, ever. We trust you to do the right thing.

Write back soon, Anavel. We remain as ever, your loving Mom and Dad.

There was a photo of his parents inside, showing them smiling against the Zum City skyline, from their balcony no doubt. They did look well, although somewhat greyer and more lined than when he'd last seen them. Well, so was he. He tucked the letter and the photo into his wallet.

A month later, Kelly called him at work.

"Can you come over tonight?"

Gato snorted as he checked things off on an inventory list. "What else am I going to do? What's Laetura cooking?"

"I'm sending Laetura to the movies. Tetley's back."

Gato felt his heart stop beating for a moment. "Forget after work. I'll be right there."

Major Tetley stood as Gato came into the living room. "I'm sorry for taking so long, but I've been with Admiral Delaz. I told you that you'd be called to his side eventually, and that time is now. Ready?"

Gato was silent for a moment. "Of course. Is Kelly coming along too?"

Kelly shook his head. "I've got a job of my own. I'm rebuilding the whole Val Varo."


"Weren't you looking forward to this?" Tetley asked.

"I've been dying for it," Gato said. "I've known it was coming for almost a year now, and sometimes I thought it would never come. I'm a little in shock. The thought of being without Kelly is a strange one, too." His eyes had not drifted away from his friend.

"C'mon, you're not going to turn this down just to hang out with me, are ya?" Kelly asked.

"Oh, no way. It's just...we've been through so much together. It's hard to imagine you not being at my side."

"I'll be there eventually, Gato. I'm fixing this old mobile armour so I'll be able to fly it. Sooner or later, I'll be getting orders like you are now. Isn't that so, Tetley?"

"Absolutely," Tetley said.

"Major, could I have a moment alone with Lt. Layzner?"

Tetley nodded and handed him an envelope. "The ship is a cargo transport of the Cima fleet. Here's the dock it's in. It'll board-not depart, board- at 0800 tomorrow, so don't be late. I'll meet you there." He left Gato and Kelly alone.

Kelly looked at him. "Spending the night here?"

Gato shook his head. "I have to go back to my place, get my things, leave the keys. I'd also like to make sure my uniform still fits."

"Probably for the best. I don't want Laetura to know what's going on. It'll worry her."

"So this is goodbye, I suppose."

"Looks that way."

"What about Laetura? What'll happen to her when your turn comes?"

Kelly looked away. "She's a good woman. I'll make sure she's provided for, and beg her to understand. I don't want her to remember me as another bastard who used her and threw her away. We might live in a scrap yard, but she isn't trash."

"Far from it." Gato looked thoughtful. "Until we meet again, Kelly. I'm sure it'll happen."

"I am too." They clasped hands and realized in a second how inadequate the gesture was. They threw their arms around each other, Kelly's arm clutching Gato hard enough to choke off his breathing. Gato squeezed back.

"I'll tell Delaz not to forget you when I see him," Gato said when they released each other.

"You do that. Now get out of here before I start crying like a pussy."

When Nina Purpleton got home from work at 9 pm, the first thing she noticed was that the apartment lights were on when she knew she'd turned them off. The other was that the place smelled wonderfully of food. Anavel, in a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, was setting the table.

They stared at each other for what felt like a long time. Then he broke the silence by saying, "Dinner's almost ready. I know you must be hungry."

"Why did you come back?" Nina asked.

"I feel I owe it to you," Gato said. "I've got everything worked out, finally."

When Nina started asking questions, he silenced her with a long kiss. He kept her quiet with beef Wellington and cheesecake. By the time dinner was finished, she'd decided she could postpone hearing his explanation, just for one night.

Anavel carried her to the bed and gave her better things to think about, anyway. Many hours later, she fell asleep in his arms, his cheek pressed against the top of her head.

Lulled as she was by good sex, food, and wine, Nina never awakened when Gato slipped out of bed and risked a brief shower. He reached into his duffle and removed a single rose in a plastic tube. He lay it and a note of apology on the pillow beside her. He kissed Nina's forehead lightly and gazed down at her.

It would be so easy to simply undress and get back in bed. But what would that accomplish? Within months, or weeks more likely, his belongings would be going out the window again, this time after having lost the chance to fulfill his calling in life.

Gato stood and picked up his duffle, resolutely turning his back to the sleeping woman. The door fell closed behind him with a soft click.