Backstory 2


Harrington-Wing ‘verse backstory 2 in timeline:

Important meetings and Milestones.

The clerk of the court had an annoyingly nasal voice, but at least he didn’t mumble and Howard figured he hadn’t been hired for his diction anyway.

“Court is convened in the matter of custody of Solo Ramirez y Maxwell and Duo Ramirez y Maxwell, orphans born in this jurisdiction holding dual Beowulfian and Manticoran citizenship, lately residents of the independent station Toolbox,” the clerk droned. “Interested parties: closest known living relative, Angelina Maxwell, great-grandmother of both children, citizen of Manticore resident in this jurisdiction; godfather and legal guardian according to the parents’ wills, Mike Howard--”

“Michael, surely?” the judge asked mildly, peering at him over her screen.

“Mike, Your Honour,” Howard said, hitching partway up out of his seat and nodding to her. “It’s not short for anything. I generally go by just Howard anyway.”

“I see. Do continue.”

The clerk cleared his throat and went on. “Mike Howard, citizen of Manticore, resident and primary shareholder of the independent station Toolbox. Both interested parties present.”

“Well.” The judge peered at Howard now, a gesture that really needed pince-nez glasses for her to be looking over. “And what is the basis of your petition, Mister Howard?”

“Request to formally adopt the ki-- uh, boys, ma’am.” Howard stood again, shoving his hands into his pockets in an effort to keep from fidgeting. “I’m their godfather, and their parents all wanted them to stay with the Sweepers if anything happened, and… well, I don’t just want to be their guardian.”

“Ms Maxwell?”

The boys’ great-grandmother actually looked old, or at least older; Howard figured she was probably a second-generation prolong recipient, same as him. Everyone else present looked about twenty-five or even younger, whatever their actual ages. Bunch of wet-behind-the-ears brats…

“I have no objection,” she stated firmly, standing in her turn. “I did all the parenting I planned on a long time ago, and while I’d be happy to take the boys in, I don’t think it would be fair to take them out of the environment they were raised in without clear need.”

“Young children do adjust,” the judge noted mildly. “I do wish to take their desires into consideration, however. Solo? Where would you prefer to live in future?”

Solo stood, imitating Howard, chin up stubbornly. “We’re Sweepers,” he said bluntly. “We grew up on the Toolbox and we don’t wanna go live with dirtsuckers-- uh, no offence,” he added hastily, glancing sideways at his great-grandmother. To her credit, she seemed to be stifling a smile. “I’m sure our great-grandmother is a nice lady and all, but we never even met her face to face before, you know? And we’re ship kids. Ma’am.”

“I see.” The judge was also smiling, Howard noted with relief. “And your brother Duo?”

“Cousin,” Solo, Duo, Howard and Angelina Maxwell chorused together.

“I beg your pardon. Cousin?” Blinking, she referred back to her screen. “As I understand your surnames, Ramirez would be your father’s first surname and Maxwell your mother’s?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Solo nodded.

“And Duo has… the exact same surname combination?”

“Our dads were twins,” Solo shrugged.

“And our moms were cousins,” Duo chimed in.

“Which is why they’re both my great-grandchildren, not just one of them,” Angelina confirmed.

“I see. Very well. Duo? Where would you prefer to live?”

“With Solo,” he said flatly.

“Apart from that,” the judge said patiently. “Would you prefer to live here on Sphinx with your great-grandmother, or with Mister Howard?”

“With Uncle Howard,” Duo said without hesitation. “All my friends are on the Toolbox, and I just got big enough that I’m allowed to go out on the ships sometimes. I’m a Sweeper too, I don’t wanna give that up!”

“I see,” she said again, smiling openly this time. “Well, since all the interested parties are in agreement, especially the most interested parties, I see no reason to deny the petition before me. The Court hereby rules that Solo Ramirez y Maxwell and Duo Ramirez y Maxwell may be legally adopted by Mike Howard,” she concluded, picking up her gavel and rapping sharply on her desk.

Awesome!” Duo cheered, flinging his arms around Solo and Howard together. “Hey, that means you really are my brother now, right?”

“Guess so,” Solo agreed, grinning and hugging back.

“…Given this result,” the judge went on after spending a few minutes pretending to be absorbed with something on her screen, “it would probably be a good idea to get the official documentation taken care of now -- or at least as much of it as we can manage in one sitting,” she amended wryly. “I believe my docket is clear for the afternoon?”

“It is, Your Honour,” the clerk confirmed boredly.

“Then if Mister Howard is also free--? Yes? Good. The more we get done today, the sooner you will be able to return home.”

“Ah, I should call someone to come get the kids,” Howard said hastily, emerging from a three-way embrace.

“I can show them around town,” Angelina suggested, smiling at the boys. “I may not be keeping them, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to get to know them a little before they leave again. If that’s all right with you? We can go to the Forestry Service headquarters and see the treecats,” she suggested temptingly.

Both boys looked at Howard, and he grinned. “Sounds like a plan. Thanks, Ms Maxwell. Okay kiddos, you behave for your great-gran, okay? Don’t give her trouble, and don’t get into trouble either!”

“We’re Sweepers, Uncle Howard,” Duo said scathingly, rolling his eyes as Solo smirked. “We know how to stay out of trouble.”

Of course, being Sweepers, they knew how to get into it as well.

* * * * *

Quiet Trickster dangled upside-down from a high branch, holding on with four true-feet while his hand-paws waved his current ‘toy’ above the frustrated human it belonged to. He bleeked in amusement as the human’s voice wavered between cajoling and demanding.

“Damn it Loki, I need that! My break’s gonna be over in ten minutes and if I go back without my hat I’ll get written up for being out of uniform! C’mon, don’t be an ass about it! Fuckin’ little practical joker fuzz-brain, see if I ever slip you celery again…”

=What are you doing to the poor two-legs now, Quiet Trickster?= a familiar mind-voice asked, and he swung himself up onto the upper side of the branch, looking around for his friend.

=Dark Wanderer! I did not know you were heading back into this area.=

=Neither did I.= A shadow dropped from a higher branch to land next to him, yellow eyes glinting in sharp contrast to his nearly-black fur. =I was headed north, but a couple of days ago I changed my mind. Call it a whim,= Dark Wanderer sent, mind-voice dry with self-deprecating humour.

=Because you normally plan your journeys so far in advance,= Trickster sent back, just as dry. Sitting up on his haunches, he plonked the purloined hat onto his head, pushing the front up so he could peer out from under the brim.

Wanderer made a chittering noise, ears going back. =You look ridiculous,= he snickered.

=I do not see how they can stand to wear these things. It is blocking my ears, and the two-legs are already half deaf.=

=They can probably stand it because they are already half deaf. Besides, their ears are lower.= A sound from below drew his attention. =…The two-leg thinks you look funny, too.=

Still ‘wearing’ the oversized hat, Trickster leaned over to look. The human was baring his teeth in the threatening-looking amusement display they used -- well, threatening-looking if you ignored the fact that their teeth were practically useless -- and holding up something small and shiny.

=Are you going to give it back?=

=Of course. I was going to trade it back for some cluster stalk, but this two-leg is not carrying any today.=

=Does he usually?=

Trickster chirped in amusement. =Why do you think I took his head-thing instead of someone else’s?= Swinging himself back around the branch, he dangled at full stretch, holding the hat by its chin-strap; the human sighed, but held out his hands hopefully and then grinned when Quiet Trickster let go.

“Thanks, Loki. You’re not a complete shit.”

=Is that what the two-legs call you? What does it mean?= Dark Wanderer asked, stretching and yawning as the human jogged back to the nearby buildings.

The answering thought was undeniably smug. =Light Laughter says that it is the name of a famous trickster from two-leg memory songs. Even the two-legs know what my name should be.=

=Ah… so you’re being obvious, then.=

The resulting scuffle dropped them both out of the tree and scattered twigs everywhere.


Combing needles out of his plumed tail, Quiet Trickster looked sideways at the other treecat. =Are you planning to stay in the area for a while?=

=I am at the moment,= Dark Wanderer sent, distracted by grooming mud out of one ear, =but you know as well as I do that my plans do not last. Why?=

=You could come back with me to my clan’s home range; the memory singers would be interested to meet you and share the stories of your travels. It is not far, and there is a two-legs nest-place nearby with a whole garden full of cluster stalk,= Trickster told him gleefully. =They protect the rest of their gardens with fences and metal vines that bite, but the cluster stalk just has little sticks that shine lights and make clicking noises when you walk past them. I think they do not mind if we People pick it.=

=Whether they mind or not, it is going to get picked if that is all they do to guard it,= the darker ’cat snickered. =That does sound good, thank you. I will not make any promises about staying for a long time, though…=

=I have told the memory singers about you before,= Trickster said comfortably, cleaning his claws. =They will not expect it.=

Climbing back up the tree, they leapt from branch to branch, working their way around the edge of the human buildings until they reached a spot that was one jump away from a low roof. Claw marks and scuffed patches on the branch and roof showed that this was a frequently used route, and they hopped further until they could join a large group of treecats sunning themselves. Dark Wanderer perched on the roof-ridge, politely exchanging greetings and introductions with the local clan and their other visitors, and Trickster relaxed into a boneless sprawl in the gutter, head propped on the edge so that he could watch the humans coming and going below.

* * * * *

“Ms Maxwell, good to see you! We don’t see you out this way often,” a young woman in the Forestry Service uniform said cheerfully. Duo and Solo hung back a little, eyeing her warily, but the cream-coloured treecat on her shoulder soon had all their attention.

“Hello, Simone! My great-grandsons and I thought we’d come out and say hi to the ’cats,” Angelina told her, nodding to them both. “Good morning, Chipper.”

The treecat ‘bleek’-ed politely at her, then went back to staring at the boys.

“Well, you can start with this one right here,” the ranger grinned. “Hello there; this is my friend Chipper.” She started to crouch, to bring the ’cat down to the boys’ eye level, but blinked in surprise and straightened up again as Chipper jumped down and sat in front of them, tail wrapped neatly around her feet.

“Uh… hi, Chipper,” Duo said uncertainly. “I’m Duo. This is my cousin Solo -- well, he’s my brother now,” he corrected himself, face breaking into a grin. “We just got adopted, see.”

The ’cat chirped in an inquiring tone, head cocked to one side, and Duo’s grin widened. “You’re really pretty,” he told her, crouching down, and her eyes narrowed in pleasure.

“I can see that I don’t have to give you the speech about how treecats aren’t just animals, huh?” Simone said wryly, and he snickered.

“Nah, our moms were from Sphinx. They told us stories.” He blinked, smile fading, and looked away; Chipper crooned softly and stretched forward to rub her head against his hand, purring. Solo’s smile faltered for a moment before returning, not quite reaching his eyes, and he shifted sideways to press his leg against Duo’s shoulder.

“So yeah, we know about treecats,” he cut in, looking up at the ranger in a transparent attempt to draw her attention away from the younger boy. “We were born here, too, but we’re Sweepers now.”

“Sweepers?” Simone asked gently, letting him change the subject, and Angelina shot her a grateful look over the boys’ heads. Chipper was leaning up to croon at Duo, one hand-paw patting his damp cheek as he stroked her, sniffing quietly. “I haven’t heard of that, what are Sweepers?”

“It’s a salvage and transport company, mostly in Silesia ’cause there’s a lot of work there but we’ll go everywhere,” Solo said proudly. “Uncle Howard owns it, and he says it doesn’t matter where someone comes from, once you’re a Sweeper that’s it, you’ve got a home. We mostly live on the Toolbox, that’s the main station, or on the ships.”

“Wow, so you’re spacers? That’s great!” Simone told him. “I’ve never been out of the Manticore System, so you’ve got me there. Is that why you’ve both got your hair like that? A Sweeper thing?”

Solo grinned, a little embarrassed, one hand going up to touch the clip holding his shoulder-length hair in a knot at the back of his head. “Yeah, kind of. If you’re wearing a spacesuit, or if you need to go in and out of zero-gee spaces, it’s best if your hair is either really short or tied up out of the way. Most people just cut it, but--”

“Our moms liked it long,” Duo spoke up, scrubbing his sleeve across his face before looking up, eyes red but face calm. “They didn’t want to cut our hair. ’Cause we’re on a planet right now we could untie it, if we wanted, but it feels kinda weird loose.”

“It would, if you’re not used to it,” the ranger said, patting her own tight bun. “Besides, planetside you’ve got to worry about wind and stuff messing it up. Or treecats,” she added dryly, eyeing Chipper, who pointedly looked away. “Some treecats really like winding themselves up in their human partner’s hair, if it’s long.”

Chipper blinked and looked back at her with a patently false innocent expression. “Bleek?”

“Yes, you, you little macramé fetishist!” Simone cleared her throat, keeping her face straight with an effort, then turned back to Solo. “Okay, Ms Maxwell did say you wanted to say hi to treecats, not just one, so how about we go out this way? There’s usually about twenty treecats hanging out on the roof of the transport shed.”

“Are they all partnered with rangers?” Duo asked curiously, standing up after one last pat. Chipper chirped regretfully and jumped back to Simone’s shoulder in one smooth movement; the leap looked effortless, but Simone visibly braced herself for the impact.

“Oof! Somebody’s gaining weight,” she muttered. “No, we’ve only got about half a dozen adopted pairs working here right now. The local treecat clan lives several kilometres east of Twin Forks in the picketwood, they seem to like coming into town to visit us--”

Solo snickered quietly. “Tourists.”

“--Pretty much. And there’s always a few that wander in from further away.” Simone opened a nearby door and stood back, gesturing politely for them to precede her through it. “’Cats are very social, and the younger ones often travel between territories. Sometimes they go a very long way; we’ve got records of a treecat showing up at a clan site that was half-way across the continent from his home territory…”

* * * * *

“Oh hey, he’s new,” a ranger said, tipping his hat back to get a better view of the nearly-black treecat surveying the compound from his perch on the peak of the transport shed roof. “Wow, that’s a seriously unusual colour; I’ve never seen a ’cat that was darker than sort of medium brown before.”

“Where--? Oh, him! He’s been around before, about a T-year ago I think. He seems to be friends with Loki,” a second ranger added, absent-mindedly tightening the chin strap on his hat.

“Here’s hoping he doesn’t have the same taste in jokes-- whoa, what’s up?”

Every single treecat on the roof sat up at once, ears pricking up and heads all turning to face the same way.

* * * * *

Dark Wanderer sat up with a jolt, eyes widening as an astonishingly powerful mind-glow brushed the edge of his perceptions. He’d been talking lazily with the local People, enjoying the feel of the mute but radiant two-leg minds around him, but this--!

=Who is that?= Quiet Trickster asked, startled. =Wait, there are two of them!=

=I haven’t felt them before,= one of the other locals replied.

A new voice joined the conversation, coming from the direction of the bright glows. =They are barely more than kittens,= she said softly. =So sad and hurt, but so brave…=

A female two-leg wearing the brown and green coverings that the local small clan seemed to favour came into view around one of the buildings, head turned as she talked to another female who was escorting a pair of smaller two-legs, hands protectively on their shoulders. Dark Wanderer leaned forwards as the smallest one looked up, deep blue eyes widening at the sight of the massed treecats staring back at him.

Their eyes met, and the brilliant mind-glow behind the blue eyes reached out for him, and Dark Wanderer jumped.

* * * * *


Simone’s head snapped around at the piercing call. There was a treecat racing towards her -- no, two, the dark-furred one was just easier to spot against the dusty compound grass -- and Chipper made a satisfied crooning noise on her shoulder, leaning forward. “What-- oh, hey, no, Chipper, this is a bad idea, they’re spacer kids!” she exclaimed, suddenly realising what was happening. “Tell your friends to back off!”

Chipper didn’t even look at her, just made a low huffing noise that she recognised as the ’cat equivalent of ‘you must be joking’ and kept watching, approval in every line of her body.

Oh, this is such a bad idea, Simone told herself as she took one long step to the side to put herself in between the oncoming treecats and the kids. If they don’t just ignore me they’re going to shred me, but letting them bond to a couple of Silesian kids is an even worse idea than trying to stop them!

“What’s the matter?” Ms Maxwell said behind her, alarmed. “What-- uh, boys, maybe we should--”

The taller boy, Solo, ducked out from under her hand as she tried to tug him back, taking up a defensive stance in front of his younger cousin/brother. “Duo, back up!”

“He’s not gonna hurt me,” Duo said, voice absolutely certain. “Hey, leggo!”

You’re right, kid, but this is still a terrible idea! Simone spread her hands, crouching as she tried to block. “Chipper, tell them to stop!”

The paler treecat put on a sudden burst of speed, jinking to one side as he passed both the dark ’cat and Simone in one leap, then bounced back at an angle and smacked into Solo’s thin chest with a joyful chirp. The boy went over sideways with a startled ‘oof!’ as the breath was driven out of him by ten kilos of flying bone and muscle, and the darker ’cat jumped through the space where Solo had been standing a moment before to hit Duo, driving him back against his great-grandmother’s legs and purring like an unbalanced turbine.

“…Well, that was a futile effort,” Simone sighed, turning to survey the damage.

“What just happened?” Ms Maxwell asked plaintively.

“I’d say ‘congratulations’, but this is going to open up such a can of worms,” the ranger told her, tipping up her bush hat and scratching at her forehead as she watched the two treecats purring and snuggling against their happily oblivious partners. “Basically, ma’am, it looks like your great-grandsons got adopted twice today.”

“…Oh dear.”


On Simone’s shoulder, Chipper purred smugly.

* * * * *

=You need to be paying attention to this,= Light Laughter sent apologetically.

=Can it not wait?=

=Not really. I think it would be best to stop the two-legs right now, before they get stubborn.=

Reluctantly, Quiet Trickster dragged a fraction of his awareness away from his two-leg -- his, his, the bond singing quiet joy through the back of his mind -- and towards the apparent argument going on over their heads. =Stubborn about what?=

=The two-legs’ clan elders do not think we People should bond with two-legs who do not live under this sun,= Light Laughter explained quickly. =It seems that your two-leg and his littermate live a very, very long way away from this planet.=

=What a shame,= Trickster said smugly, already starting to turn back to Solo as Dark Wanderer sent wordless agreement. =It is too late to stop us now, so I do not care what they think.=

=They think that it is not too late to stop you.=


Light Laughter opened her mind to the two newly-bonded treecats, letting them share her understanding of the humans’ conversation.

“They live on a station in Silesia,” the two-leg woman who seemed to be part of the younglings’ clan was saying. “I’m their great-grandmother, yes, but I’m not their legal guardian, and making them stay on Sphinx would be a terrible idea! They just lost their parents. The only reason they’re here at all was for a custody hearing, their godfather has adopted them and is going to be taking them back home. Home, I said!” She raised her voice, almost shouting as she overrode a male two-leg’s attempt to speak over her. “Removing them from an environment where they are happy and have friends and family to look after them would be irresponsible and frankly cruel!”

“Well, they’re not going to take a couple of treecats to Silesia of all places!” the male snapped back.

“I’d like to know how you plan to stop them, given that even I know that official Government policy is that a bonded treecat goes with his or her human,” she snorted, folding her arms across her chest. “Isn’t all this a bit academic now?”

“I’m not so sure,” he said grimly, turning to glare at Dark Wanderer’s human. The small two-leg was sitting on the ground with his arms wrapped firmly around the dark ’cat’s midsection, face buried in silky fur and lost to the world. “The bond takes about half an hour to complete. If we separate them now--”

Light Laughter’s two-leg stiffened, drawing in a hissed breath. “You can’t do that, sir.”

“Oh, can’t I?” He laughed, an angry sound. “We have enough problems with people wanting to kidnap treecats to study them without letting a couple of kids drag a pair of ’em off to Silesia, out of our jurisdiction and away from all the safeguards we have in place to prevent them from being abused! If you say the kids aren’t staying on Sphinx, fine, I can’t make them stay on Sphinx,” he went on, glaring at the older female, “but I can make the ’cats stay on Sphinx. Somebody fetch a tranq gun.”

=No!= Wanderer sent, near panic.

=No,= Light Laughter agreed coldly, mind-voice ringing louder until it was nearly as clear as a memory singer’s. =We will not permit this,= she sent with absolute conviction, and bared her fangs in a ripping snarl.

The male two-leg stiffened, head turning to eye the female ’cat warily. “Control your partner, Ranger Anderson.”

“Sir,” Light Laughter’s two-leg said nervously, licking her lips, “I strongly suggest that you back away from those boys right now.”

“Anderson, I told you to control that ’cat!”

“Oh, I’ll try, sir,” she said fervently. “I might even succeed. But I can’t do a damn thing about them,” she added, carefully raising one hand to point upwards.

Twenty-six treecats, crouched menacingly along the edge of the roof above them, added their own snarls to Light Laughter’s.

“Like I said, sir,” the female two-leg went on, raising her voice to be heard over the tearing-canvas noise. “You need to back away now, and I think you’d better cancel that order about the tranq gun too.”

=…I believe you can relax now,= Light Laughter sent slowly, watching the pale-faced two-leg sidle away. =We will guard you.=

Silent agreement reached out from the watching treecats, and Quiet Trickster began to relax. =You will not let them interfere?=

=No.= She brushed his mind with a gentle, comforting touch. =My Simone has seen our clan defeat a Death Fang,= she added, darkly amused. =She will make her elder understand.=

=He had better,= Trickster sent, grumpily. =Of course we will be going back to our two-legs’ home range. They are younglings, they need to stay with their clan!=

=And I have always enjoyed travel,= Wanderer mused, curling around his small partner’s neck and purring.

* * * * *

When Mike Howard arrived fifteen minutes later, panting from his dash across town after getting Ms Maxwell’s com call, all he could do was push his sunglasses up on the top of his head and scratch his head.

“Well, shit,” he said blankly. “’Scuse me, ladies, but… well. Shit.”

“I’m so sorry, Mr Howard,” she said miserably, and he patted her hand absent-mindedly, still staring at the two boys obliviously cuddling their new partners.

“Hey, s’all right,” he shrugged. “Not your fault. I wasn’t exactly forbidding you to take them near any treecats, was I? I’m just thinking about the legal shit-fight we’re gonna have with the Forestry Service.”

“It might be easier than you think,” Simone put in, watching the boys with her arms folded and Chipper purring happily in her ear. “The ’cats are on your side.”

Howard looked sideways at her, frowning dubiously. “That’s nice and all, missy, but they can’t exactly stand up in court and give a legal argument for us, now can they?”

“I don’t know about that,” she shrugged. “’Cats have a way of getting their opinions across, even if we can’t really communicate with them. Don’t you, Chipper?”

The cream-coloured cat chirped smugly, rubbing her head against her human’s jaw and purring.

“How do you feel about Loki and his dark friend going to Silesia with the boys?”

The purr got louder.

“Sounds like you like that idea, huh?”

“Bleek!” And Chipper nodded, pale green eyes turning to watch Howard’s eyebrows go up.

“How do you feel about the Forestry Service trying to make the boys stay here on Sphinx?”

Chipper’s eyes narrowed and she bared her fangs, hissing softly.

“That’s clear all right, but I can see some fancy lawyer telling a judge that you’re telling your ’cat what to do,” Howard scowled.

“I’m pretty sure that any ’cat is going to react the same way, whether their human partner thinks it’s a good idea or not,” Simone assured him, and Chipper nodded again. “They’re very serious about the importance of clans, so if the boys’ clan has its territory in Silesia and the boys want to go home, the boys are going to get to go home if the ’cats have anything to say about it. Unbonded treecats might have a harder time answering questions, because most of them don’t really get the concept of spoken language, but they’ll give the same answers once someone translates for them.”

“Well… okay then,” he shrugged, a bit dubiously but willing to let himself be convinced. “It’s still gonna be a shit-fight, but I can handle that if we’ve got some weight on our side. And I’ve gotta admit,” he snorted, breaking out in a grin, “given some of the crap -- sorry -- that my Sweepers have pulled on shore leave, picking up a coupla pushy furred friends is pretty minor! Besides…”

“Besides?” Ms Maxwell asked once it became plain he wasn’t going to continue, and he sighed.

“Treecats are good for their partners, right? I mean, mentally,” he said, waving one hand vaguely next to his temple and glancing sideways at Simone. “Emotionally.”

“Very much so,” she assured him, one hand coming up to caress Chipper’s ears.

“Yeah, well in that case you could hand me a button that would fix things so this never happened, and tell me that the Forestry Service was gonna sue my ass until it was hanging in the wind without a pair of pants to cover it if I didn’t use it, and I still wouldn’t push the f-- the thing,” he growled, sliding his sunglasses back down over his eyes. “It’s been two months since the kids lost their parents, and they act like they’re doing just fine most of the time, but they’re not, you know? They have nightmares, and some days they hardly talk, and okay that’s kinda normal for Solo but when Duo’s quiet it’s just wrong. I know they’re faking being okay because they don’t want to be trouble, and I’ve tried to talk to them about it, but…” He gestured helplessly. “I even took them to a doc, y’know?”

“What did the doctor say?” Ms Mawell asked.

Howard snorted again. “The kids put on such a good show for him that he told me I was worrying too much, and transferring my own problems onto the kids because I didn’t want to admit I had any, and suggested that maybe I needed a little talk therapy to get over my issues with death,” he said, disgusted. “Then the kids had nightmares so bad they hardly slept for a week, so I wasn’t gonna try that twice. Anyway, if they’ve lucked into something that’s gonna help them get through all this bullshit, I can handle a Goddamn legal shit-fight,” he finished, jaw setting stubbornly.

Chipper turned to croon at him, eyes squeezing nearly shut in an expression of pleasure, and Simone laughed. “Mr Howard, sir, I think you’ve got the exact right attitude to get through this.”

“Ha. Just call me Howard, kid. We’re gonna get along just fine.”




To Backstory 3

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