Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha

From the depths of her dream, Dakota hears the whine of a dog desperate for relief. "Wash," she mumbles, shifting beneath the blankets, "let the dog out." Another whine, this one louder and even more desperate. "C’mon, Wash. She’s your dog. Let her out already!"

A somewhat grouchy, somewhat sleepy grumble sounds right next to her ear, causing her eyes to open. It comes to her, then, with sudden clarity that this stunning blonde vision is about as far from being her youngest brother as it is possible to get.

"All right. I’m up already. I’m up!"

"I’m sorry, love," Koda replies, rolling up and wiping the sleep from her eyes. "I was dreaming. I’ll get him."

"No, no," Kirsten states, eyes still closed as she struggles out of the confining sleeping bag, "he’s my dog, I’ll let him out."

Both manage to get to their feet at about the same time and spend a moment leaning against one another as they fully awaken to a new day. Asi whines again, all but crossing his legs. Kirsten swears his eyes are yellow. "You poor goober," she sighs. "We forgot about you last night, didn’t we."

His expression appears to say that yes, they did forget about him, but all will be forgiven if they would just please use their opposable thumbs to unlatch the door and let him outside…post haste, if you please.

Snagging the top blanket to wrap around herself, Kirsten stumbles to the door and, after a few good yanks, manages to pry it open. Asi takes one step out into the still raging blizzard and stops. A wide strip of fur from shoulder to tail spikes up and he tears off into the whiteness, barking insanely.

Kirsten freezes. "Asi—."

"Asimov! No!!" Without thought, Dakota runs naked into the blizzard toward the sudden snarls—which aren’t Asi’s, and the pained yelp—which is.

"Dakota!!" Kirsten screams, already losing sight of her lover in the driving, thigh-deep snow. "Shit!!" Turning, she runs back into the house and grabs the first set of clothing she can lay her hands on, yanking on too-large sweatpants and her own t-shirt and shoving her feet into her still wet boots. Dakota’s gun is closest to hand, and she grabs it and heads back outside at a run. "Dakota!! Asimov!!"

"Stay back!" Dakota’s voice is commanding, though oddly flat, as if muffled by cotton batting.

Ignoring the order, Kirsten bounds into the snow, following the short trail Dakota has blazed, rifle cocked and at the ready—for what, she doesn’t know. Another series of high-pitched and piercing yelps is followed by an unearthly howling that all but freezes Kirsten’s heart in her chest. "Dakota!!!"

The howling cuts off abruptly and Koda reappears through the curtain of snow, blood covered and carrying Asi’s limp form in her arms. "Get my kit and build up a fire! Hurry!!"

Without further question, eyes wide and fearful, Kirsten turns again and races through the deep snow back into the shack. Setting the rifle in the corner, she hurries to the packs and quickly digs Koda’s first-aid kit from the larger one. Placing it on the sleeping bags, she then strides to the fireplace, drops to her knees, and starts feeding sticks into the smoldering fire, fanning it to hurry the process along. Dakota enters a moment later and lays Asimov gently down on the sleeping bags. "It’s okay, boy," she says softly, stroking his fur, "you’re gonna be alright. I promise."

The fire blazing, Kirsten comes to kneel beside her lover, placing the blanket over Koda’s icy shoulders and looking down at her beloved pet. A long, blood slice lays open his side from mid-chest to belly. Blood pours liberally from the cut, obscuring its depth. "What happened?" she asks, eyes brimming with tears.

"Wolverine. Get me some rags, t-shirts, anything to wipe this blood off, and some water. Hurry."

Kirsten grabs random batches of clothing from their packs and starts shredding them as Koda opens her kit and removes several items. Her fingers are like ice, but the adrenaline rushing through her body causes her not to notice. Grabbing a rag from her lover, she covers the wound and presses hard. Blood soaks through quickly, and she tosses it away, retrieving another one and repeating the process until finally the blood from the gouge begins to slow to a trickle. Grabbing a pair of battery-operated clippers, she quickly and efficiently begins to shave away the fur around the gash until his skin is smooth to the touch. "Give me a couple of wet rags," she orders.

Wet rags in hand, she carefully wipes the blood from the edges of the wound, breathing a sigh of internal relief as the cleansing reveals that the cut, while deep, does not break through the deepest barrier of skin. His organs are intact and undamaged. "Does he mind shots?" she asks, without looking up from her work.

"I…I don’t think so. Koda…?"

"Is he up to date on his rabies?"



"I’m thinking, alright!? It was maybe two weeks before everything went crazy. Asi stepped on a thorn or something and I took him to the Vet. He got a shot."

"Was it rabies?"

"I don’t…yes, it was. His year was almost up, and the vet decided to give it to him then so I wouldn’t have to come back."


"Do wolverines carry rabies?"

"They can, yes. Get another wet rag and try to keep the cut clean of blood so I can see what I’m doing."

Swallowing hard, Kirsten does as asked, using her free hand to gently stroke Asi’s trembling flanks. Reaching into the kit, Koda removes several narrow syringes. "Lidocaine," she explains to Kirsten. "It’ll deaden the area I need to stitch. Just a little prick, boy."

Asi looks at her with offended eyes, and Koda chuckles softly. "Yeah, that’s what all you men say. Ok, here we go." Pinching up his skin, she injects the drug into several places, then sits back, waiting for the medication to take effect.

"Dakota," Kirsten says gently, "you need to get warmed up. You’re nothing but a block of ice."

"I’m alright," Koda replies firmly, shaking Kirsten’s arm from her shoulder. "I need to take care of the dog first."

"But you can’t--."

"I’m alright." Reaching out, she touches the skin around the cut, nodding. "Okay, boy, time to stitch you up. Kirsten, sit over there near his head in case he gets a mind to bite me."

"He’d never bite you!"

The look Koda gives her convinces her to switch positions, and a second later, she’s settled next to Asi, his head in her lap. "It’s gonna be okay, boy. You’re gonna be okay. Promise, ok?"

Raising calm eyes to his mistress, Asimov licks the inside of her wrist, causing her to giggle. "Stop, that tickles!"

Slipping powdered latex gloves on over her icy hands is an exercise in slow torture, but Dakota manages, and further manages to make the fine motor skills of her fingers work in picking up the threaded suture needle. "Ok, boy, here it comes."

It takes a double row of stitches to close the deep wound, but Asi bears it well, without even a whimper, and soon Dakota’s work is done. A bit of antibiotic salve rubbed over the stitches, and she removes her bloodied gloves with a snap. "There, all done. It’ll leave a scar, but his fur should cover it, and if it doesn’t, he can brag to all his buddies about the time he went up against a wolverine and lived." Then she looks directly at her patient. "And no licking, or I’ll have you looking like Mary, Queen of Scots in a heartbeat, understand me?"

Asi gives an affronted growl.

"Just remember what I said. I’ve got plastic collars right here and if you don’t want to be mistaken for a radar dish for the next week, no…licking. Got me?"

With a truly martyred sigh, Asi lays his head back in his mother’s lap and closes his eyes to further discussion on the matter. Kirsten looks up at Koda, eyes shining. "Thank you."

Dakota gives a short nod. "Just trying to protect his family."

"The wolverine?"

"Asimov. It was pretty brave. Stupid, but brave."

Testing an unsure barometer, Kirsten gives a small smile. "Speaking of both of the above." She inclines her head, scanning her lover’s naked, mottled and blood spattered body. "Please," she whispers. "You helped Asi. Let me help you. Please?"

After a moment, Dakota nods, then tries to stand. Her knees refuse to bear her weight and she winds up sitting on the wet, bloody floor beneath her. Laying Asi’s head carefully down on the sleeping bag, Kirsten jumps to her feet and grabs the rest of their blankets, bundling her lover in them before going over to the fire and removing two pots of water she’d set to heat when she built up the blaze. Liberating some soap and clean cloths from their bags, she comes to her partner’s side and gently begins to clean the crusted blood from her limbs and body. She doesn’t miss the stiffening, nor the soft intake of breath when she reaches for Dakota’s left arm. Bringing it slowly out into the light, her eyes widen even as her face pales. "Dakota?" she asks, her voice tremoring. "Did Asimov bite you?"

"No," Koda replies from between tightly gritted teeth. "Wolverine."

"Oh, god." She looks up into her lover’s pain shadowed eyes. "What do we do? What--?"

"It’s alright," Dakota spits out. "Just clean it as best you can with soap and water and wrap it. I’ll give myself a couple of shots that should take care of it."

"A couple of shots?? Dakota, did that wolverine have rabies???"

"There wasn’t time to tell. I was too busy trying to keep him from cutting me into filets." She smiles slightly. "Relax. I have the vaccine here and as long as I take it, I’ll be fine. You know that."

"Jesus, Dakota! You could have been killed out there!"

The smile disappears from Dakota’s face as if removed with acid. "It was either that, or let Asimov die. I saw a chance. I took it. End of story."

Kirsten opens her mouth, then closes it with a snap of teeth. This isn’t time to argue, and she knows it. Dakota is in pain, and she concentrates on that, cleansing the wound with as gentle a touch as she can manage. "Jesus," she whispers as she examines the angrily swollen puncture marks on her lover’s forearm. "Dakota, we need to get you to a doctor."

"No, we have what we need right here. It would be worse trying to go out in this weather. Believe me, I’ll be fine."

Kirsten has reservations, a whole ton of them, but pushes them back hard. "Ok," she says instead, tossing the bloody rag away, "what now?"

"Throw those rags in the fire, then grab the syringe marked ‘rabies’ from my kit. There’s also a bottle of pills in there marked ‘Amoxicillin’. Get those too, and some water."

By this time, the adrenaline she’s been working on has completely worn off and in its place, violent wracking shivers invade from top to toe, making even her guts clench with the force of the contractions. "You’re…gonna have to…give me…the shot…I think…."

"Whatever you need me to do, Koda. I’ll do it. Just show me how."

"Hel…p…me l…lay down on my s..s..side."

With a tenderness that surprises her, she is able to lay her lover on her side, cushioned by the sleeping bag. "Ok, what now?"

"Th…there’s a landmark. Be..between my hip and my asscheek. Almost a triangle…of muscle. Feel it?"

"I…I think so, yes."

"G..good. Now, pinch up the skin, just…just grab it and pull. Then take the needle and stick it in, like you’re throwing a dart, right into the muscle."


"Just do it."

Taking a deep breath, Kirsten wills her hand to stop shaking and inserts the needle. "It’s in."

"I can feel it, yes. Now…now pull back a bit on the plunger. Just a little. Check…check for…b…blood. Is there any?"

"N-no. I don’t see any."

"Good. Now p..p..push the pl..unger in, nice and sm…mooth. Like that, yes. Then remove the needle and clean the puncture with a clean rag to stop the bleeding."

"Okay, it’s done. It’s not bleeding anymore."

"P…perfect. You go..go..good shots, Dr. K-king."

"Thanks, but that’s the first and last shot I hope to ever give in my life, so we’ll keep that little talent a secret, shall we?"

"Wh-whatever you s..s..say, Doctor."

"Now, how about those antibiotics? Can you drink some water?"

"I can try."

Koda sticks out her tongue and Kirsten places the capsules in her mouth, then tilts the mouth of the canteen up to her lover’s lips. Koda takes a few choking swallows, enough to wash down the meds, then turns her head away. " more right now…I’ll on it."

"Alright, then. It doesn’t take an MD to see that you’re suffering from exposure and hypothermia. So, Asi and I are going to make a Dakota sandwich and warm you up, whether you like it or not."

"’s the i..i..idea I’ve h..h..heard all day."

"It had better be, because it’s the only option you’re getting. Can you try and scoot over a little next to the dog?"

Koda manages a weak half-crawl, and collapses next to Asi, who immediately snuggles against her, back to front. Stripping, Kirsten slips into the bag and presses her warm front against Koda’s ice-cold back, then draws the covers over them all, praying with all that is in her that this will work.


For the second time that day, Kirsten awakens to a whine from Asimov. Tension flooding her, she twists within the confines of the blankets and the body pressed against her. "Asi?!"

Whining again, Asi stares past Kirsten, his tongue bright pink and lolling from his mouth, his sides heaving with the strength of his panting.

"Asi? What’s wrong boy? Are you okay? What’s wrong?"

He continues to look past her, still whining plaintively, and finally Kirsten’s sleep-numbed brain gets the message and she rolls over, and freezes, one hand moving up to cover her mouth. Dakota’s normally bronzed complexion is pale as curdled milk save for two high, clownish spots of color resting on her cheeks. Her entire body is bathed in sweat and suddenly, Kirsten can feel the immense heat radiating from her as from an oven. "Jesus!" she chastises herself as she scrambles from beneath the heavy, sodden blankets, "What was I thinking? How could I have fallen asleep?! Jesus! Koda? Sweetheart? Can you hear me?"

An unintelligible moan is her only response.

Throwing the blankets away from the makeshift bed, she stares in horror at Dakota’s arm. Massively discolored, it is swollen to nearly twice its normal side. The puncture marks constantly ooze bloody drainage mixed with yellow, foul-smelling pus, and, worst of all to Kirsten’s view, long red streaks radiate from the wound up the arm. "Toward her heart," Kirsten whispers, hand against her own chest. "Oh god. Oh, god. Ok. Ok, Kirsten, think. Think. You can do this." With a slightly shaking hand, she touches Dakota’s uninjured arm and squeezes, just the tiniest bit. "Dakota? Dakota, can you hear me? Honey, you need to wake up now, please."

"Ina?" Koda rasps, eyes still tightly closed. Her soaked head thrashes back and forth on the makeshift pillow. "Ina?"

"No, sweetheart. It’s Kirsten. Please, you need to wake up now."

"Wakinyan he.  Wakinyan tuwapiIyuha te."

"Sweetheart, Dakota," a harder shake, "honey, wake up. You’re dreaming and I can’t understand you. Please, please wake up."

" Kohipe, ina," Koda moans, still thrashing desperately.  " O opa le te.  Tali."

"Dakota! Please!!"

" Ikahe.  Waciyeye."

Kirsten pulls back, wringing her hands. "Ok, ok, you just need to calm down here and not panic. Now, she’s got a fever, and she’s delusional. That’s to be expected, right? So…what do you do for a fever?" She looks around. "Water. Cool water, on a rag. Wipe the sweat away, cool her off. And…aspirin. That’s good for a fever, right? Right. Okay, let’s just get this done."

Grabbing one of their clean t-shirts and a canteen, Kirsten wets the cloth with the last of their fresh water. "I’ll need to melt some snow to get more," she tells herself. "It’s gotta be pretty clean out here in the middle of nowhere. I hope."

Once the rag is fully wet, she brings it to her lover’s face and gently bathes the sweat away, slightly comforted when Dakota immediately stops thrashing and seems to calm beneath her tender touch. "That’s right, sweetheart, just let me help you, ok? You’re gonna be alright. You are. You have to be."

"Ina," Koda whispers. "Kohipe, ina."

"It’s alright, Dakota. It’s alright, sweetheart. I’m here. I’m right here." Not sure what else to do, she begins to hum, slightly off key, a tune she’s heard Dakota hum in the past. Even if the tune isn’t exactly right, it seems to reach down into whatever hell Dakota is trapped in, and her labored breathing eases slightly as she seems to fall into a deeper sleep. Continuing to hum, Kirsten gently bathes the sweat from the rest of her lover’s body, leaving the brutally injured arm for last. She doesn’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that Koda shows absolutely no reaction to the cleansing of what has got to be a horribly painful wound.

"Ok," she says, tossing that rag into the fire and listening to the flames’ hissing protest, "now Aspirin, and more Amoxicillin. Water first, though." She rises to her feet a bit unsteadily, battling down a wave of dizziness that threatens to take her back down to her knees. "Oh no, you’re not going to get sick too. Not going to happen, so you can just forget that action. Asi? You stay here, boy. I’m going outside to get some snow for water. I’ll be right back."

Slipping into some dry clothes and wet boots, she grabs the pots from the cooking kit and heads outside. The storm appears to be slowly tapering and Kirsten breathes a sigh of relief over this one bit of halfway decent news. Staying within a pace of the shack, she grabs handfuls of snow and packs it tightly into the three pots she carries. "Okay, this will have to do for now. I’ll just melt it over by the fire and see if I can get Dakota awake enough to swallow it with some pills."

Satisfied with her course of action, she lifts the pots and heads back into the shack, kicking the door closed behind her. Asi lays full length next to a too-still Dakota, once again offering his warmth. "Thanks, boy," Kirsten says, bringing the pots over to the hearth. "I’ll check on you and let you out in just a minute, ok? Just got to get some medicine into Koda first."

The snow quickly melts and Kirsten pours some into one of their drinking cups, then roots through the packs for Aspirin and Amoxicillin. Two caplets of each in hand, she moves over to Koda’s side and sits cross-legged beside her. "Now for the hard part."

Dakota’s head lolls like a corpse’s as Kirsten gently tries to lift it enough to get the cup to her lips. "Come on, sweetheart, you can do this. We can do this. Please." Setting the cup down, she opens her lover’s mouth and slips all four caplets on her dry, discolored tongue. Then she retrieves the cup and starts to trickle the water in. Most of it runs harmlessly down Dakota’s cheek and chin. With a sigh, she tries again, this time using her thumb to close her lover’s mouth and one finger to gently stroke her throat, as a mother would when trying to get an infant to swallow formula. "Thank god," she says when it works. "Oh, thank you, god."

Taking away the soaked bundle of clothing she’s using as Dakota’s pillow, she replaces it with the last of their fresh sweats and gently replaces her lover’s head on the prop, tenderly stroking tendrils of wet hair away from her cheeks and brow. "Now you just rest, sweetheart, and let the meds do their work. Asi and I are right here and we’re not going to let anything happen to you. Just concentrate on getting well, ok?"

Wiping the tears from her eyes, she regains her feet, takes away the dirty clothes and cup and puts both in a corner to be dealt with later. "Okay, boy, your turn. How’s your side, huh?"

Asi obediently comes to her, easily and without a limp or obvious pain, and as she pets his great head, she looks at the wound on his flank. Despite her own serious injury, Dakota had done her job to perfection. The wound is clean, dry, and free of swelling or discoloration. "Another thing to be grateful for, huh? Ok, let’s let you outside to do your business and then come back and keep watch, alright?"

The snow has tapered off even more to isolated flurries when she opens the door. Asi goes bounding out and heads immediately for the blood-covered area where the corpse of the wolverine lies. Lifting his leg, he marks it, then turns away, sniffing at other trees, bushes, errant leaves, and whatever else strikes his fancy. "How did you kill it?" Kirsten wonders out loud. "You didn’t have a gun. Hell, you didn’t even have any clothes on. How did you kill it?"

The chill breeze gives no answer.



Kirsten rouses from her watch from time to time to add wood to the fire and to stir up the embers. Its warm glow spreads over the stones of the hearth and the crude walls of the cabin, over their spread sleeping bags and Koda’s face. Kirsten is not sure how much of the flush of her lover’s skin is the flame’s reflection, how much is the burning of an inner fire. Her breathing seems more rapid now than the last time Kirsten checked, her lips dry. Kneeling beside the pallet, she turns the cover back from Dakota’s bandaged hand. The forearm strains tight against the wrappings, its swelling grossly unmistakable now where the flesh balloons around the elbow. Scarlet stains the gauze and lycra, bright against older, rust-colored spots. A bright yellow streak, fresh drainage, seeps through with the blood.

A chill runs along Kirsten’s spine. The infection from the bite has grown worse, spreading to adjacent tissues. Whatever it is—Staph? Strep? One of those flesh-eating megabugs?—is not responding to the Amoxicillin. If it gets into the bone, or goes systemic, into the blood, Koda may not be able to throw it off. She may not be able to throw it off, even now.

For the half-dozenth time, she rummages through Dakota’s kit, hoping to find something, anything, she’s overlooked. There’s a second antibiotic, Sulfamasomethingunpronounceable. Maybe if she gives it in addition to the Amoxy? Sometimes, she knows, drugs can be more than the sum of their parts. Breaking two of the large, white tablets from their foil-and-plastic blisters, she lifts Koda’s head from the rolled jeans and flannel shirt that serves as her pillow and slips the tablets into her mouth with a trickle of water. Without awakening, Dakota swallows, reflex taking over. With Asi beside her, Kirsten wraps her own hand around Koda’s and does the only thing she can do. She waits.

Kirsten walks a corridor filled with light. Her nylon-soled shoes make no sound against the tiled floor as she passes what seems to be an endless series of wide, numbered doors on her right, an equally endless series of tall windows on her left. Men and women in white coats and surgical scrubs pass her in a human stream, their elbows cocked to hold clipboards, stethoscopes draped over their shoulders, their pockets brimming with coiled wires and esoteric-looking instruments. Looking down, she sees that she, too, wears a lab coat and carries a file, the name blurred against its red label.

She reaches an intersecting corridor, marked by what is apparently a nurses’ station. An endless rank of white-clothed figures stares at monitor screens arrayed on the desk, so many it might almost be a computer lab. None of them moves or speaks to her, or raises a head to acknowledge her. It comes to her that she does not know where she is or why she is there. One of the nurses might know, but she hesitates. Perhaps something terrible will happen if she asks one of them a question. Or, perhaps, something terrible will happen if she does not ask. Galahad—no, not Galahad, one of those other impossibly priggish knights, she can’t remember his name—at the Grail Castle, too polite to ask the obvious and heal the King.

But that doesn’t make any sense. I’m the King

Doctor King.

As if in response to her thought, the intercom crackles above her head. "Dr. King. Dr. King. Room 486 please. Stat. Dr. King, go to Room 486. Emergency."

No single head turns away from its monitor. The human traffic continues to flow around her, oblivious. Kirsten begins to run, paying attention to the numbers on the rooms for the first time. 400. 410. She dodges around a meal cart, pushed by a young man who spares her not so much as a glance. 420. 440. She crosses a second intersecting hall, a third. 460. Her chest heaves with the effort; surely she has run half a mile, three-quarters of a mile since the intercom’s summons. 470. The corridor makes a double-dog leg turn, leading away from the bright hallway lit by windows. Here rooms run on either side of her, and she panics, almost skidding to a halt in her tracks. The numbers on the doors no longer march in sequence. She passes 239, then 863. But no, there is 472, and a bit further on, 475.

As she runs, the passage constricts and becomes darker, the lights above dimmer, the traffic diminished. Finally, at the end of the hall, lying now almost entirely in shadow, she comes to the door she seeks. Her breath coming in gasps that are part exhaustion, part fear, she pushes it open and brings her hands to her mouth, stifling a scream.

The room lies in near-total darkness, lit only by running LCD readouts on screens that rise up from the head of the hospital bed to the ceiling. In their flickering rainbow light, she can dimly make out Koda’s face on the body lying so still and stiff on the bed, a white sheet drawn up to its chin. Oddly, none of the instruments seem to be connected to her—no tape, no tubes, no needles.

Oh gods, no. It’s the morgue. No.

"No, it isn’t. Not quite."

Kirsten follows the sound to the corner of the room. A white-coated figure stands there, the multi-colored lights playing about him like an acid-dream aura. The person takes a step forward, ostentatiously checking a Rolex the size of a saucer that lies against his slim brown wrist.

His brown furry wrist.

"There is not," he says, "very much time."

Another step forward, and Kirsten can see him clearly now, partly in the instrument lights, partly in the glow from the lighted dial of the immense watch. Bottle-bottom round spectacles perch over his pointed black nose, and a brushy tail, grey stripes and black protrudes from beneath the pleat of his lab coat. The hand that turns the Rolex so that she can see the time bears five long fingers, and no thumb.

"You!" she snaps. "What the hell—"

"Tch. Again with the manners. Your mother should hear you."

"What the hell"-- Kirsten can hear her voice rising, out of her control—"What the fuck are you doing here? I don’t need you! I need someone who can help!"

"On the other hand, your mother shouldn’t hear you. What a mouth you’ve got." He gives an indignant sniff. "Besides, look where you are. Have some respect."

Kirsten’s gaze returns to the still figure on the bed. She stares fixedly at the sheet for a moment, willing it to rise and fall with Dakota’s breath. It does not stir.

All the fight goes out of her, her spine slumping with the sudden weight that falls on her. "She’s dead," Kirsten says in a voice so flat she does not recognize it as her own. "I couldn’t help her. The infection got out of hand—" She swallows hard against the dry contraction of her throat. "We didn’t have the medicine, and I couldn’t help—"

"And it’s all your fault, yadda yadda yadda. Suck it up. You can help."

"Wha-- Didn’t you hear me? The medicine doesn’t do any good! What are you going to do, give me somebody’s grandmother’s recipe for a magical herbal tea? She needs a doctor. She needs a hospital. She needs—"

"This prescription." Tega extracts a notepad and a pen from his coat pocket and begins to write, holding the ballpoint between the middle joints of his third and fourth fingers. He tears off the script and passes it to her across the bed. "Here. Any questions?"

Kirsten glances down at the paper in her hand. Printed in fine, flowing letters across the top is the legend, W. T. Kunz, M.D., Ph.D., A.P.A., F.R.C.S., D.V.M., LL.D., K.C.B.E.

Half the alphabet soup she does not understand, and it occurs to her that that is probably just as well. Beneath it, in clear block print, is "Levaquin Injectable. 500 mg 2/day for 10 days. Packet 10 3cc syringes w/needles." It is the most lucid prescription she has ever seen, and the most useless.

She says bitterly. "It might as well be skunk cabbage tea. Where the hell am I supposed to find this? There’s no Walgreen’s over the next ridge, or if there is, it’s looted."

"How about the hospital pharmacy?" Tega cocks his head to one side, looking at her as if she is a slightly backward child.

"What hospital? There is no hospital, dammit! This is a dream. We’re marooned in some god-forsaken fishing shack in the god-damned middle of god-damn nowhere!"

"Craig," says Tega.

"What? Who’s Craig?"

"Not who. Where. Over the state line in Colorado. There’s a clinic. In Craig. With medicines. You can fill the prescription there."


He glances at his watch again, steadying its immense dial with one hand. "Get out the map, put on your boots, and go. There isn’t much time."

"Wait! What—"

The intercom interrupts her. "Dr. Kunz. Dr. Kunz to Emergency. Code Purple. Stat."

"Gotta go, schweetheart. It’s been fun, and it’s been real, and get up off your ass and go get the meds." With that he begins to fade, and the hospital room around him. Kirsten’s eyes snap open, to the now-familiar sight of the fire and Asimov’s anxious gaze, and the too-quiet form beneath the sleeping bag.

"Gods, what a damn dream—" Without thought, she raises a hand to rub at her aching forehead.

There is a paper in it. A paper that was not there before.

Hardly trusting her sight, let alone her mind, Kirsten looks down at the words that march across the corner of the Wyoming/Colorado map from Koda’s rucksack. In her own neat handwriting it says, "Levaquin Injectible. 500 mg/day for 10 days. Packet 10 3 cc syringes w/needles."

"Ok," she says, wiping her hands on her pants. The script crinkles in protest. "I can do this. I have to do this. Even if that nutty striped Marcus Welby wannabe from my very weird subconscious didn’t tell me, I’d still have to do it. So let’s get going. First things first. It’s gonna be a long hike, so I need to be dressed for it. Or as dressed as I can be, anyway."

Slipping off her sweats, she tugs on a dirty pair of jeans, then pulls the sweats back on over them, then pulls Dakota’s sweats on over them, changing her appearance to that of a housewife who’s spent a little too much time with the bon-bons and soaps. They have two dry t-shirts left, and she pulls both of them on, then one of her own flannels, then one of Dakota’s, and finally Dakota’s heavily lined flannel that is more jacket than shirt. A third flannel is tied, babushka style, over her head. A pair of heavy, clean socks double as mittens. "I know, I know," she remarks to Asi, who seems to be laughing at her, "I look like the bagperson from Hell, but at least I’ll be warm. I hope." Three pairs of socks and her boots come last.

Fully dressed for whatever may come, she waddles over to Dakota and, with the effort of a small child in a full snowsuit, lowers herself to her knees. "I’ll be back soon, sweetheart. I promise you." She strokes the damp hair from her partner’s forehead. "I’ll have the meds you need and you’ll be better in no time. Then we can finish this shit and get on with the rest of our lives, ok?" Tears sting her eyes and she swipes at them. "Just…hang in there while I’m gone, alright?" Bending still further, she places a tiny kiss on Dakota’s forehead, and a longer one on dry, cracked lips. "I love you, Dakota Rivers. Never forget that. Ever."

Pulling away, she pauses for a moment, and looks up at the ceiling. "Ina Maka? I don’t know if you can hear me. Hell, I don’t even know if I believe you even exist. But Dakota does, I know that, and that’s enough for me. I don’t pray much—heck, I don’t pray at all, really, but I’m doing it now. Please, please watch over her while I’m gone, ok? I know that you and her are close, and you might be thinking of calling her to your side so you can be together all the time, but…don’t do it just yet, ok? I need her. I need her and I love her…so much. And if you really are up there, you know that. So please, just…watch over her for me, alright? Thanks."

Struggling back to her feet, she takes one long, last look at her lover, then turns to her dog. "Guard her with your life, Asimov. I mean that. Do you understand me?"

A stern bark is her answer as she exits the cabin without looking back.


Continued - Chapter 56

Duh duh duh duhhhhhh. <G> Heck, we had to put in a little hurt/comfort somewhere, right? Stay tuned next week for the continuation of this ongoing tale. Until then, hasta linguini!

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