For some time, silence settled.

When it broke, that silence gave way to a frustrated utterance of “Why?”

The tiger leaned on the window sill, arms stiff, hands tense. “Why,” he repeated, “do you have to do this? You could get hurt, Tazzer! You could get…” The words choked off in his throat, and he sagged over the sill.

“I know, Damin,” the fox sighed. He reached for Damin’s shoulder, but the tiger tensed before he even made contact; his hand closed into a fist, then sank back down to his side. “Heavens unending – I’ve thought about that. I’m not making this decision lightly, Damin!”

“Then why?” Distress, dismay, and grief combined to make Damin’s voice shake, and his head sank until it pressed against the windowpane. Again he demanded, “Why do you have to do this?”

“It’s a job that needs doing,” Tazzer objected. “It’s a good job – a chance to do something positive in my life! I need that, Damin! I don’t want to leave you, but that’s why I’m applying for the garrison – I’d still be able to see you…”

“But not while you’re in training,” the tiger shot back. “Three years, Tazzer!”

“Not three solid years!” the fox cut in. “I’ll be back here whenever there’s leave…”

“But what if something happens? Tazzer – if I lost you…” Damin shuddered.

This time, when Tazzer moved in for an embrace, Damin did not resist; he leaned into his lover’s presence with a choked sob.

“I know there’s a risk, Damin,” Tazzer murmured. “But it’s not that high. It’s too early to mourn me yet, love – odds are still better than not that I’ll turn in a few straightforward tours, and I’ll have my life on track…”

“There must be another way!” Damin clung to Tazzer’s shoulders. “There must be! You don’t need to put yourself in harm’s way with the Authority!”

“Someone has to,” Tazzer insisted. “We don’t want that mess with the passenger liner to happen here.

“Let someone else do it,” Damin pleaded. “There’s millions of someones in this city alone…”

“And most of them have someone who loves them,” Tazzer sighed. “Parents, siblings, children… partners.” He wrapped his arms around the tiger’s shoulders and squeezed close. “I’m sorry, Damin. But I just wouldn’t feel right sitting idly by. The Authority’s stretched thin already – if everyone stands back and lets someone else step up, in the end nobody will, and we’ll be a lot worse off.”

Damn it!” Damin buried his snout against Tazzer’s shoulder, clinging tight, trembling. Tazzer held him, murmuring reassurances over his ears that were more sound than word, stroking his ears.

At length, he drew a ragged breath. “I’ll miss you,” he breathed.

“I’ll miss you too,” Tazzer murmured. “That’ll be the worst part of it, being apart from you. But I’ll come back as often as I can, and I’ll send messages, too. I’m not going to just disappear, love.”

“Promise?” Damin challenged; but after a moment, he sighed. “Don’t answer that. You always were the brave one of us, Tazzer. Just be careful, please.”

“That,” Tazzer assured him, “I can swear to.”