Dragon, 87

You Can’t Change the Past, but You Can Do Your Best to Make the Future Better

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When we go home, Owen signed, I’ll show you all the garden. It has a lot of flowers at this time of year.

No it doesn’t, Darby said, shaking his head. It’s winter, stupid.

It’s called an example, stupid, Owen said, kicking Darby gently. Darby stuck his tongue out.

Edwin chuckled a little at them, which told Owen what he needed to know. And flowers can grow in winter. Right, Edwin?

“Uh…” Edwin nodded, colouring. Yes. Flowers can grow in winter. They’re really… Edwin hesitated, which he often did when speaking aloud, but was way more obvious when his hands literally stopped moving. Sunny?

Darby giggled, and Edwin’s face fell. Don’t make fun, he’s still learning, Owen told him.

Darby nodded, moving to sit in front of Edwin. Pretty, he said.

Edwin nodded. Pretty, he signed back.

Owen couldn’t see Darby’s face, but he could see Darby’s tail wagging. No, you are.

And before Owen could warn Edwin, Darby reared up and kissed him on the mouth. Edwin made a little noise, but he sure didn’t protest, letting Darby kiss him for a few seconds before Darby pulled back, looking like nothing so much as a pleased cat, which Owen would only tell him some day when he wanted to make Darby mad, as he started to sign at Edwin, which Owen couldn’t make out.

Owen had a feeling the lesson was over. He was giving Edwin some extra lessons since he was behind everyone else and wasn’t learning as fast as Gavin and Greg anyway—which wasn’t his fault, Gavin was a freakishly fast learner and Greg spent all his time with Darby. He was learning about as fast as Owen had as a kid.

“Uh,” said Edwin. I don’t know what that is. He was blushing a little, which suggested to Owen that he’d gotten at least a few of the words, and that Owen didn’t need to worry about looking for a babysitter.

Darby turned to get Owen to translate for him when one knock sounded and the door opened. Drew stepped in. Owen would be including him in these lessons too, but he’d turned out to already know sign. He’d been weirdly evasive when Owen had asked who’d taught him, but he was also an orphan, so maybe he just didn’t like to talk about his family. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said, looking at Owen.

“What is it?” If he were just coming in to get the laundry or something he would have waited until one of them had talked to him to speak. He was shy, but they’d get him there eventually, Owen thought.

“Sir Elaine asked me to come get you, sir,” Drew said. “Rudy’s awake.”

Edwin bolted to his feet, startling Darby. What’s going on?

Owen stood as well. Edwin’s friend woke up. We’re going to go see him.

Can I come?

Owen nodded and made sure Darby met his eyes. Sure. Just remember he’s not feeling well.

Darby nodded seriously, following Owen into the hall. Edwin was already there, going down to Rudy’s room, which Holly was guarding. They talked quietly for a second and she let him in.

Owen followed with Darby. Rudy was sitting up in bed. He looked terrible; clammy and pale and gaunt. Sylvester was sitting beside him, a hand near his head. “Do you feel that?”

“Feel what?” Rudy asked, his voice a scratch.

“Okay. What about this?”

“Ow,” Rudy said, and Sylvester took his hand away.


“What’s going on?” Owen asked, standing beside Gavin at the foot of the bed.

“Checking to make sure he doesn’t have any leftover effects from the centipede,” Gavin muttered, as Edwin sat on the bed beside Rudy.

“Shouldn’t the guys who took the centipede out be doing that?” Owen asked. Seemed pretty obvious to him.

“Yeah, and they will. But Sylvester was here and they weren’t. Drew, can you go find Sully, Lillian or Mick and tell them Rudy’s awake?”

“Yes, your Highness,” Drew said, withdrawing from the room.

He’d barely shut the door when Rudy pulled away from Edwin, falling back. “You shouldn’t have…why did you help me?”

“Because you were going to die, Rudy,” Edwin said. He sounded upset.

“That would have been…that would have been so much better,” Rudy whispered. “I should have died. I deserved to die. I…”

“Rudy, you don’t deserve to die,” Edwin pleaded.

“Yes I do!”

Edwin looked like he might cry. Gavin moved forward, sat down on the edge of the bed. “Rudy,” he said, and Rudy flinched. “Look at me, please.”

With obvious reluctance, Rudy looked up. He had tears in his eyes. “Y-your Highness,” he said, voice shaking now.

“I have the power to sentence you to death, you know that, right?”

“Gavin,” Edwin muttered. Owen put a hand on Edwin’s shoulder. It was okay.

Rudy nodded. “I, I know that. You should.”

“I shouldn’t, and I won’t. I don’t think you did anything wrong.”

Rudy flinched, looked away. “I killed Howard.”

“Howard was abusing you.”

“I…” Rudy took a breath, then another. “I was his squire.”

“That doesn’t give him the right to hurt you,” Edwin said quietly. “He was supposed to take care of you, Rudy.”

Rudy shook his head. “I was never going to be a good knight.”

“Did Howard tell you that?”

Rudy didn’t answer that. “I did other stuff too. Other bad stuff. I put centipede eggs in the castle moat. And I killed…I killed a family so we could get in the tunnel under their house. I…”

“Howard made you do that,” Gavin told him. “He and the centipede had a plan, and they used you to make it happen.”

“That doesn’t matter, I still did it!”

If Rudy shouting bothered him, Gavin didn’t show it. Off to the side a bit, Darby was biting his thumbnail. “It does matter, Rudy. I’m not blaming you for something you were forced to do, and neither will anyone else.”

“Nobody forced me to kill Howard,” Rudy whispered, hugging himself.

“It was the right thing to…”

“It wasn’t,” Rudy snapped. “Murder is wrong.”

“Rudy,” Owen said. Gavin was doing well, but he needed a hand here. “Why’d you kill him?”

Rudy blinked, looking up at Owen. His eyes were dull and had bags under them, as if he hadn’t slept for days. “Because I…he was…because I was tired.”

Owen nodded. “You’ve been tired for a long time, haven’t you? And you didn’t kill yourself even though you think you should die. It was because you wanted to make sure you got him first, right?”

“Owen, that’s not…”

“Shh,” Owen said, putting his hand in Gavin’s lap.

“Yes,” Rudy admitted, squeezing his eyes shut. “It was the only thing…”

“That was a very brave thing to do,” Owen told him. “And a very noble thing. And it was the right thing.”


“It was. Staying alive is always the right thing to do, and that’s what you did.” Owen watched to make sure Rudy wasn’t going to interrupt again. “I know it’s hard to keep doing that, to keep being brave like that, but we’re going to need you to be brave again, okay?”

As Owen said that, the bed creaked, and Darby in his wolf form got up. Rudy started, but Darby just came over and lay down beside him, whinging a little. Hand shaking, Rudy patted his head. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“You’ve already done the most important thing, Rudy. You made sure Howard would never hurt anyone ever again,” Edwin said. “And neither will you. And the centipedes won’t be able to hurt anyone either, because we’ve got this now. We’re going to find the rest of them, and we’re going to kill every last one of them. All you have to do now is let me help you. So let all of us help.”

“But…” A tear fell onto Darby’s head. “Howard told me nobody would care about me if they knew.”

“Howard was a fucking liar.”

Rudy nodded, more tears falling, and he started to shake, and cry. Edwin hugged him, holding him there. Darby wiggled closer.

Gavin got up, gesturing for Owen to come with him. Still hugging Rudy, Edwin took Owen’s hand. When Owen looked down at him, he spelled out with his fingers. Thank you.

Owen smiled. You’re welcome.

Out in the hallway, Gavin sighed, wiping his face. “Part of me’s glad that you didn’t let them join my guard, because Howard was obviously dangerous. But another part of me…”

“Wonders if we could have prevented all that, I know,” Owen said. He felt that too. Guilt. “We couldn’t have.”

“We might have seen the signs, or…”

“Or we might have put everyone around us in danger.” Owen took his hand. “We’re doing what we can, Gavin. We can’t be responsible for what we didn’t decide four months ago. Would you really have rather risked having Howard around Darby or Greg?”

“No. God, I’d…” Gavin looked lost for a second. “I’d have slit his throat with my writing quill, first of all. But I’d have never forgiven myself.”

“Me either.” Owen looked at the door. “And Rudy probably feels even worse than that.”

“Yeah.” Gavin hugged Owen, let Owen hold him for a second. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Okay, we should go downstairs. I want to see Sully and them before they go in and bother him.”

Owen nodded, and they headed down the stairs. “We may have to set him up at the house in Pelican Bay,” he said. “Or here. He may not want to come back to the capital.”

“It might not be safe for him to come back to the capital anyway if they’re looking for him. They’ll want to hang him.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” said Owen. There was no way that he was going to let Rudy die for doing the right thing. He knew Gavin felt the same way.

“No,” Gavin agreed. “It’s not. But I can’t sort it out until we go home. So I guess we should start getting ready to go.”

“Yeah. Vacations can’t last forever.”

“I wish they could,” Gavin said.

Owen held his hand as they entered the common room. He didn’t need their vacation to last forever. As long as he was beside Gavin, he didn’t care where they were, and he didn’t care who they had to take on. Because Owen believed in doing the right thing.

And being with Gavin was the right thing.

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