Wolf stirred the coals of their campfire and considered adding more wood. She’d mostly dried off since their impromptu dip in Mulholland’s little murder pool, but her pelt was still damp and the night was cold. Mandu and the boys snored on the far side of the fire. Turned out having your brain invaded by an army of evil tardigrades was really draining. She and Kipo were still up though, nodding in front of the fire only to jerk themselves awake. Was Kipo as afraid as Wolf of what she’d see if she closed her eyes?
“We were mega bunny hunters.”
“What?” Kipo looked up from the fire. The light hit her eyes strangely, making them glow like a cat’s.
“In my dream,” Wolf said, hugging herself. Because of the cold, of course, not for any dream-related reasons. “We were mega bunny hunters.”
“Sounds fun!” Kipo said brightly. “I was home with my Dad except my Mom was alive. She was just like me and she had answers and—” Her smile slid from her face.“I should have known it wasn’t real. Everything was just too perfect. You know?” She shook her head. “I didn’t even realize it was a dream until you woke me up.”
“I did,” Wolf said, tossing more wood on the fire. Sparks flew and drifted into darkness.
On the surface, Mulholland had given Wolf everything she had thought she wanted: her and Kipo, the two of them buff and tough and together. Her guilt had kept her from really enjoying it, but it hadn’t been why she fought back.
Since they’d met, Wolf had been trying to pound the rules of the surface into Kipo’s thick, pink skull. The world was a cold, hard, dangerous place and that’s exactly what Wolf had become in order to survive. But Kipo wasn’t built for survival. She was built to live. She made friends as easily as she made music and somehow managed to find wonder and joy in everything. As annoying and occasionally terrifying as that could be sometimes, Wolf didn’t actually want her to lose that. A Kipo who killed for fun and didn’t do mushy was hollow no matter how muscular her arms were. Both versions of her friend had forgiven Wolf for hiding the note from her father, but only one of them had done it because she actually cared.
“She wasn’t you,” Wolf said, touching the barrette Kipo had given her. She’d never had a birthday present before. “I like the real you better.”
“Aw.” Kipo looped her arm around Wolf’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze. She was so soft and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Wolf gave herself a full fifteen seconds to enjoy it before she pulled away. “I like the real you better too.”