I fudging hated hospitals.

Fortunately, I’d only suffered a mild concussion myself – I really had to stop getting whacked over the head with heavy objects – and Bee had beaten the fudge out of the military guy. At least that’s what she told me – I doubted he’d crawled out with broken ribs, too injured to kill us and go after Mara, but I could believe that he hadn’t been prepared to attack two girls in one night, especially when the second girl could hold her own much better than I could, and when his real target had run away.

But the latter didn’t sound heroic, so Bee stuck to the first version.

I sighed, got up, paced up and down the empty corridor, and sat back down again only to shove my hands in and out of my pockets.

“He’ll be fine, Pop. He’s strong.”

“And if he’s not?”

She squeezed my hand. “He is. Olive brought him here fast enough, and she healed him as much as she could on the way.”

I frowned. The world had gone mad. “I still can’t believe a fairy took out a seasoned soldier.”

Bee laughed. It echoed in the otherwise empty waiting room until the sound turned cold and hollow.

“I told you they’re more resourceful than that.”

“Yeah.” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. “I wish Ana had been a little more resourceful.”

“I know, Pop. Me too.”

Her funeral was tomorrow. Bee had been brilliant, making all the arrangements and organising everything like the boss lady she was. I hadn’t even fully accepted it yet. Ana was dead. The fairy who had rescued Mel – Olive -, a vampire, and Mel were the only survivors. And the prisoners. They managed to escape when a wizard wreaked havoc on their defences, apparently.

Mel’s doctor came out of his room, and shut the door behind him. I was on my feet within seconds.

“Is he all right?”

He nodded, and I sighed in relief. “He’s awake now, and ready for visitors.”

“You go on ahead,” said Bee. “I’ve a feeling he’ll want to talk to you alone first.”

“Are you sure?”

I didn’t really care if we went in together or not. I just wanted to see for myself that Mel was okay.

“Yeah, I’ll wait. You go on ahead.”

I nodded, and closed the door behind me.

Mel was sitting up on his bed, and smiled when he saw me. Berry. He was pale.

“Hey.” Smooth, Poppy.

“You came to see me?” He grinned, and I felt better. He still looked ill, but he sounded like himself. “How are you? I heard you were injured.”

I shrugged. “It’s fine, barely even a concussion.”

I sat down on a chair next to his bed, and tried not to let my shock show.

Was this really Mel? He had never been tanned, exactly, but he was almost as white as the rest of the room. His hair looked thinner and pale. Even his eyes had lost their warmth.

“Fudge. Are you okay?” I didn’t want to be rude, but I couldn’t help myself. I had expected visible injuries, bruises, cuts, not this. If it wasn’t for his features I wouldn’t have recognised him in passing.

“I’m fine.” His smile disappeared.

“Poppy, I owe you an explanation and an apology. I didn’t want to lie to you, but I thought it was for the best. To keep you save. Ana disagreed. She wanted me to tell you.”

It was warm in the room, but I shivered. I was glad I was already sitting down.

“Tell me what?”

“When her ship crashed, Mara wasn’t the only alien who was stranded. There were ten others, eleven in total. Ten of them were captured.” He frowned, but didn’t look away. “I was the only one who got away. Ana found me.”

My lips were dry. I didn’t even realise I was talking until it was too late.

“Wait, you’re an alien prostitute, too?”

Yeah, real smooth, Poppy.

Mel laughed, and I blushed. I had so not meant to say that!

“No, but I am from the same planet as Mara. We came here to learn about humans, about your culture, your history. Some of you are white, like us, so we knew we’d blend in.”

I knew I should have been shocked, or angry. Instead I felt numb. Somehow this had been easier to accept with Mara.

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I wanted to, Poppy, but the fewer people knew I’m not human the better. The military was looking for me. If we had become friends and they had seen us around town together, they could have questioned you to learn where I was. The only reason I stayed hidden this long is because Ana cast a spell over me. Even the doctor looking after me here is a friend of hers. That’s the only reason it’s safe for me to be here.”

“Is that why you were so harsh with me when I first joined Ana’s lessons?”

“Yes. Bee was there first, I couldn’t ask her to leave, and she wanted to help. But you didn’t need to get involved. I thought I could keep you out of this.”

“I wanted to help, too.”

“I know, but I didn’t like Bee the way I liked you.”

Everything stopped still. Mel liked me? Liked liked me?

“Is everyone from your planet so straight forward?”

“No.” He smiled. “Is it making you uncomfortable? I can stop, if you’d rather.”

Fudge. What did I want? I’d never done this before. He wasn’t even human, for fudge sake. But then neither were fairies, werewolves, vampires, and all those other people who shared this planet. The only real difference was that Mel had lied to me, sort of, and he had only done that to protect me.

“No, that’s all right.” I blushed harder. “What now? Will they keep coming after you?”

“Probably. Ana and I had a few plans, in case she– In case things went wrong at the facility. I need to go over them again, but I have options.”

“Can I help?”

“Maybe. I don’t know, Poppy, it’ll be dangerous.”

“I don’t care. I want to help.” And I meant it. If I’d been too involved to turn around now I probably deserved to be an official member of the club now. I’d been hit over the head twice, for fudge’s sake!

In that moment, the doctor stuck his head in through the door. “Visiting hours are over. You can come back tomorrow.”

I nodded, but didn’t take my eyes off Mel.

“Can I get you anything?” There wasn’t even a TV in his room. He had to be bored.

“Thanks, Poppy, but I’ll be fine. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do. I shouldn’t need to stay much longer, anyway. Another few days, and I’ll be out.”

“Where will you go? You can’t stay here, Mel.” The military knew where we were now. They knew were Ana had hidden him, and Mara. Her house would no longer be safe.

“I haven’t decided, but I’ll let you know.”

“Okay.” I wanted to make him promise, but I just said that I’d be back tomorrow and left, hoping he hadn’t lied to me.

If he left in the middle of the night without telling anyone where he was off to, I’d track him down. I wouldn’t let him disappear. I wouldn’t let him do this alone.

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