Rabbit Stew and Apple Pie

Ursa Diner(#179RAJh)
You step onto a cracked but clean tile floor that was probably once red, but is now a faded salmon pink. A large, rectangular communal table seating about 10 takes up the middle of the floor, with mismatched smaller tables arranged near the large front windows. The long counter in front of the kitchen door sports plates of fragrant bread, cookies, and muffins and bowls of fresh wild fruits. A small, rattling fridge in the corner holds a selection of juices and cold spring water in reused bottles and jars. Atop the refrigerator is a can for cash donations; next to it is a box for barter payments. Scrawled on the box in black marker are the words "Pay what you can, when you can."
Menu Board
Obvious exits:
Curtain Main Street Kitchen

A young man with long white hair steps shyly into the Diner, looking around with the hopeful air of a person in search of a particular individual.

Though it's cold and cloudy without, the room within is warm and pleasant, thick with the scent of bread and tea and firewood. A young woman is curled up at a table near the big front window, lean and long-limbed, dark skin against the murky afternoon. One leg is pulled up, a sketchbook is propped on it. She glances up as Miklos walks on, quirks a brow.

A woman with light brown skin, curly rotini hair in shades of red and black, and broad, sturdy features. She has the long-limbed, lean look of someone who is often afoot and on the road. Her attire shows it as well-- thick-soled boots, dark hemp pants, a battered leather coat over a long-sleeved, tawny shirt that almost covers the scars that loop and twine about her wrists. Her pack is a jumble of buckles and straps, the pistol at her side a timeworn relic. There are crow's feet at the corners of her eyes, though she couldn't be more than twenty-some-odd years old.

Miklos pauses, just inside the doorway, his eyes lingering hopefully on the doorway to the kitchen. Then he allows his attention to be captured by the person who is in the Diner-- rather than whoever is not here-- and he pulls himself up and gives an absurdly formal little bow. "I beg your pardon," he says, with a very slight accent to his speech. "I did not mean to interrupt."

Ruth lifts a hand, a pencil held absent in calloused fingers, murmurs. "You're not interrupting." A warm, rusty alto. She slips her arm down, sets the pencil to skating across the page. "Looking for someone?"

"I was hoping Rex would be here," confesses Miki. He looks at Ruth with frank curiosity. His gaze is distracted by the pencil movement, notes the bag, travels over her clothing, and is brought to a complete stop by the gun. He drifts a step back, nearer to the door.

Ruth cants her head, draws the young man within the measure of a single eye's gaze. Her pencil slows, stops. "I haven't seen him in a while," Ruth murmurs. Her pack's nestled down aside her chair, her table's covered with pens and pencils, a little jar of ink, a big mug, a plate empty save for a few apple slices, the back end of a loaf of bread. "He's about, though, I'd think. Haven't heard otherwise."

Still hesitating by the door, Miki nods again. "Thank you," he says, and then adds, "I do not believe that I have met you. I am called Majlath Miklos, but most shorten it to Miki."

"I'm Ruth," the young woman says, amiably enough. Her eyes slip down towards the sketchbook, her pencil stirs again. "Miklos?" A corner of her mouth quirks up. "I think I've met your brother. A few days ago. Anderja, right?"

A smile appears at the mention of his brother's name. "Yes, Anderja is my elder brother. We travel together, um..." he waves a hand in an encompassing gesture, "all over, looking for work."

It's hard to see what she's drawing, some intention perhaps in the way the young woman sits just so, the book tilted back, its face veiled from the room. She draws a hand through her curly hair. "Staying a while?"

Miki nods, then looks a little uncertain. "Well, I hope so." He moves slowly towards the counter, one hand rummaging in a hip pocket absently; in a moment, he's found a couple of coins, which he drops into the donation box before picking up a mug.

Ruth glances over at the young fellow again, then folds her book up, turns a page. There's a moment's glimpse of a pencilled sketch, a horse perhaps, a figure standing near it. Then she's started something new, her pencil tracing long lines and circles along the page. "What do you do? If you don't mind the question," she murmurs.

After filling the mug with tea and hot water from the kitchen, Miki returns to the main room of the Diner. He leans against the counter, though, instead of taking a chair. "We... deal with ghosts, my brother and I. We call them out from where they haunt, and send them on."

Ruth draws a brow up. "Now, what sorts of ghosts?"

"All sorts of ghosts," answers Miki, looking faintly surprised at the question. "Of course, sometimes the problem is not ghosts. That is more difficult."

Ruth quirks a corner of her mouth up, sets her eyes to the sketchbook where she adds a few long, sweeping lines. "There're stories there, I'd reckon."

Miki smiles, looking down at the mug. "Oh, yes, but not all of them are good stories," he says. "I would not want to give you the idea that my brother and I are *often* chased out of towns by angry people accusing us of fraud and scandal. It would... make a bad impression." That smile is definitely impish, now.

"That suggests," Ruth murmurs, "that you've been chased out of town, now and then." She smiles, quick and warm.

"Well," says Miki, still with that impish grin, "when you tell the Mayor of the town that there are no ghosts at all in his house and perhaps he should consider the possibility that his children need some attention, maybe... you should expect to get chased out of town."

Ruth :reaches up to rub the bridge of her broad nose, chuckles low and warm. "I can see where that may not endear you to the community in question."

Miki takes a sip of his tea. "We tried to do it tactfully, but I think there was no good way to tell him that. Ghosts," he says with another smile, "are easier to deal with."

Ruth glances sidelong at Miklos. "I can't say I've met many," she murmurs. "Reckon they have their reasons for being where they are and doing what they've done. Do you speak to them?"

"Sometimes," replies Miklos. "Usually not, though, since that... how shall I put it... encourages them to stay where they are?"

Ruth draws her hand along the top of the sheet, wiggly lines, another circle, something she narrows her eyes at as her pencil's tip darts about. "I suppose it would," she says, quiet. "If you spoke to them they might get the idea you didn't mean much by being there."

Miki puts his head on one side and sets the tea mug on the counter he is currently leaning against. "I am not sure what you mean. I meant that... the magic is to send them away, to where dead people go. Talking to ghosts only binds them closer to this world."

"Which," the young woman says, "is what you don't want in the first place." She rolls her shoulders into a shrug, her mouth drawn straight, the lines of her face set and sharp. There's something about the way they meet, a sum of her countenance that's not strictly human. The lines are too long. "I don't suppose most are quiet about going."

"Some are quiet and some are not," says Miki. "The one I chased from the Polk house made a small fuss." His expression darkens as he says that, and his eyes slip away from Ruth and towards the window.

"Oh?" Ruth asks.

Miki shrugs. "It blew the door open-- they usually do that-- but it also knocked my things over and laughed and so on." He sighs and looks down. "The ghost-calling worked, though." For some reason, the last statement sounds faintly defiant.

Ruth's hand carries on, shading here and there. She nods. "I knew folk in college who studied for that sort of work. The dead are determined, sometimes. To keep what they have left." She reaches up to rub the bridge of her nose, squints at her work, then twists the book about so Miklos can see. It's him, leaning against the counter, on which an ephemeral woman sits, crazy, floating hair and bleak eyes. She's making rabbit-ears over the top of his head.

Miki's eyes go wide at the sight of the drawing, and he cannot resist a glance over his shoulder, just to make sure that the crazy woman isn't really there. He looks back at the sketch and smiles. "Ghosts usually have a... simple sense of humor, yes," he says, finally.

Ruth pages: It's very good, precisely-realised work. There's the sense that were she left with the time for it, she'd sketch the whole room in the same determined detail. That sort of work.

Ruth is watching Miklos when he looks back. She grins, draws her fingers through her springy, curly hair. "Just so."

Miki takes a few steps across the room and drops into a chair, still looking at the drawing. "Why the horns, though? Surely, I am too young to worry about that, yes?" He glances sideways at Ruth, with a very small, almost secretive smile lurking in the corner of his mouth.

Ruth draws her brows up, looks down the length of her nose at the young man. Her curly hair, red and black slips down over her brow. "Horns are something that'd worry you when you were older?" She quirks a corner of her mouth up, twists the book around to set it on her lap.

Miki nods solemnly. "Yes, all men must worry about them after they marry."

"I can't say I've seen many married fellas with them, 'less they were growing them already," Ruth says, amiably. She folds the sketchbook up, turns a page, sets her pencil to looping about. Absent, this time, she's doodling.

Leaning his elbows on the table, Miki watches her. "Perhaps they only worry about it over the sea, in Europe. Over there, the horns are an insult, you know. Men worry all the time about them." He sighs dramatically and says, still a little too solemnly, "I would rather give horns than get them. Perhaps I should not marry, then."

Ruth stretches a hand down to scratch an ankle with the end of her pencil, then sets herself to sketching again. Pale scars poke out from under the cuffs of her shirt, one over another over another. "Mm-hm. I didn't know they were seen with such ire."

"Neither did I, the first time," says Miki ruefully. His eyes rest on Ruth's scars for a long moment, but he doesn't comment.

Ruth's eyes have drifted towards her art again, her pace settles into something that suggests she's set herself to one idea. "The first time?" she murmurs. If she's notice where the young man's eyes have come to rest, it doesn't give her pause.

Miki grins again. "That's not a story I tell to strangers, saving your presence, lady." Then, thoughtfully, "Does that sign really mean something different here? Because the horns, you know, they mean..." his eyes wander around the room as he searches his vocabulary for a polite term.

"Where I grew up, they meant you were giving someone who had no rabbit ears some ears to have," Ruth murmurs. She quirks a corner of her mouth up.

"Ah," says Miki, apparently completely at a loss. "So it is another thing which I... learned differently, across the sea." He blushes, the warmth showing clearly through his pale skin.

Ruth grins, clasps her hands along the top of her book. "Just so."

"So many things are different here," Miki says, perhaps to try to cover his all-too-evident embarrassment. "Even after several years, I still make mistakes."

Ruth rolls her shoulders, settles further down into her seat. Old wood creaks in counterpoint. "We're all different," she says, amiably.

Miki runs a hand through a few loose strands of his hair and rubs the back of his neck. "Where do you come from? If it is not rude to ask such things."

"New York," the young woman says. It's evident in her rusty alto, she couldn't be from anywhere else. "And you?"

"I am from the Little Lands, east of Europe. In Hungaria," replies Miki. His accent is also thus explained.

Ruth draws her hands from her book, brushes the palms then settles down to sketching again, loose and quick. "I haven't been across the water," she says. "Not yet." She glances at Miklos. "That's some way to travel, to be here and now."

Miklos nods. "But we have been traveling for a long time," he says, as if it is an explanation, or perhaps an excuse.

"There's something about walking your course that makes the world real," Ruth says. "You feel each step, for good or ill, the distance matters. Time's no enemy, necessarily." She quirks a corner of her mouth up, turns a page and starts something new, sketching quickly.

Miki leans his chin in one hand and stares out the window again. "Sometimes," he says, with a strange note of finality in his voice.

Ruth makes a low sound, something like a whicker through a human throat. Assent, perhaps, or something with deeper layers. "Just so." She draws an odd little thing from the table, sets the end of her pencil in it and twirls once or twice, curls a long, long ribbon of wood out. She brushes that onto the table, settles back against the chair.

Miki sighs again, staring out the window, then turns his blue gaze back to Ruth. "Do you draw all the time?" he asks frankly. "It is very quick, and close to the eye."

Ruth pulls her shoulders into a shallow shrug, sets her mouth into a line as she looks to the book, the blank page. "When I can," she says, after some moment's quiet. "There's been time for it today, isn't always as much."

"What keeps you from doing it?" asks Miki, his eyes bright with wonder.

Ruth draws a brow up, gives the young man a sidelong glance. "I do have to sleep, now and then. Work."

Miklos returns the sidelong glance. "Work? You mean, like magic? Do you do magic with the drawings?" The questions are quite innocently eager.

Safi steps into the diner.
Safi has arrived.

Ruth glances up towards the ceiling, doesn't smile though the lines of her face soften, her eyes get brighter. "Well, that would all depend I suppose, but I'm not a wizard."

"Oh, I am not one either," says Miki, pleased. "But I do not know anyone else who does magic with, you know, other things. I sing, you see," he adds by way of explanation.

Safi comes into the cafe with the carcasses of two thin rabbits slung over her shoulder; she pauses a moment, blinking at Miklos and the unknown woman. "You sing?" she asks, startled.

Miklos half-turns in his chair. "Um. Not *very* well. But I need to make music for the calling magic, so I sing or play the furulya."

Ruth's gaze turns to the door as it opens, her brow goes up, some measure of reckognition for the woman with the rabbits. Then, she glances back at Miklos. "Furulya?"

Safi blinks at the man, and then slips into the kitchen briefly, depositing her kill there and coming out again to hear the meaning of the strange word.

Miki slips a hand inside his vest and brings out a little silver flute only a bit longer than his hand. "This. A flute? But when I say flute people think I mean something as long as my arm."

Safi takes another steo out of the kitchen, to peer at the object. "What does it do?"

Smiling, Miki raises it to his lips-- the mouth is at the side, as with the referred-to larger flute-- and plays a brief, minor melody, four lines long.

Ruth cants her head, gives the flute a sidelong glance. She quirks her mouth up, a quick grin. "Well, now, the instrument doesn't need to be that long, now." Then she rubs her forehead with the flat of her hand, shakes her head and looks back to her sketchbook. She glances back as the fellow starts to play.

Safi listens, her eyes intent on the movements of the man's fingers. This is evidently not something she's seen before, if her fascination is any indicator.

Miki lowers the flute, absently polishing it on his sleeve. "The flute is mostly for ghosts," he explains. "I learned it when I was quite young, only seven or so."

"Eso era brillante, unaga," Ruth murmurs, quiet, then she levers herself up a bit and looks to the flute. "Is it something in it's nature, how it plays for ghosts?"

"Oh, no, it is quite ordinary," says Miki, proffering the flute to Ruth.

Safi shakes her head. "It is like the voice of the wind," she says quietly, impressed.

Ruth sets her pencil down, reaches to catch the flute up in a calloused hand. She sniffs, low and quiet, weighs it within her grasp before she hands it back to Miklos. "How long have you played it?"

Miki tucks the flute back into his shirt. "This one? Anderja gave it to me five years ago." He smiles. "It was a present."

"It is... very pretty," Safi says. She watches them both, carefully.

Ruth turns her sketchbook closed, leans down to tuck it away in her satchel. "Mm. How long have you both been travelling?"

"Since our parents died. I was only four and I do not remember it very well," says Miki, getting up to take a few restless steps around the room. He decides to perch on the edge of a nearby table.

Safi watches silently, her eyes intent on the newcomer.

Ruth's mouth sets itself in a wide line as she gathers pens and pencils from the table, caps the ink bottle and sweeps curls of pencil up into a pile. She nods. "Long time, then," she says after some quiet.

"Oh, yes," replies Miki. "It is what I know. But we are together, so that is all right." He tucks his feet up onto the table and puts his arms around his knees.

"His magick," Safi says. "He... makes things travel, to different places. Is that all he can do?" The green eyes are bright with curiosity.

Miki rests his chin on his knees. "Oh, no," he says. "My brother is a much more powerful varaszlo than I am. There are many things he can do."

Ruth draws a leg up and loops an arm about it. She cants her head, settles back to listen.

Safi leans forward, almost imperceptibly. "Like what?"

The door of the Diner swings open and Anderja steps in, dressed, today, in a sheer silk tunic of deep plum, over dark sea-blue pants. Though the drizzle outside continues unabated, he appears quite dry, and his foot steps leave no track of water on the Diner's faded linoleum floor.

Ruth draws herself up from her seat, then leans down to scoop her satchel up, sling it over a shoulder. She eats the last few apple slices from her plate, then sweeps an afternoon's worth of pencil curls onto it. She glances at Safi, then looks to Miklos. "About time I got on my way. It was good meeting you." The door catches her attention, a corner of her mouth quirks up as she catches sight of Anderja. "'lo, Anderja. Looks like I've finally met your brother."

Safi glances to the door, and swallows. "Walk safe," she tells the woman in her accented voice.

Miklos looks up as the door swings open, and his face lights up. "Anderja! Edes testver!" He unfolds and springs lithely off the table, walking towards his brother. Ruth's declaration distracts him and he pauses to acknowledge her with a very polite bow of the head. "Thank you for showing me your lovely work," he says."

"De nada," Ruth murmurs. Despite having said she was going to leave, she leans herself back against the counter, not far from Safi, glances over at her.

Anderja's eyes go first to Miklos. But since Ruth speaks first, it is to her that he responds. "I am so very glad," he says warmly.

Safi gives Ruth a guileless smile, tipping her head to the woman and then turning her attention to the brothers.

Ruth sets her satchel down on the counter and tucks her hands into her pockets. Her hair tumbles down, red and black, over her brow.

Miki approaches his brother with a carefulness which would surely be called wariness if the two of them were not so closely related. "I think Rex must be up at the Farm today," he says to Anderja. "He was not at the house of Mr. Collins. May I go up to the Farm?"

Watching them closely, Safi remains silent.

Anderja shakes his head minutely to Miklos, with a feather-light touch to the boy's wrist, and no visual attention at all. His eyes are all for Ruth. "You have extraordinary hair," he murmurs. "And you move so surely. Are you, perchance--" but then he stops himself, appearing embarassed to have caught himself on the edge of discourtesy. "I do beg your pardon," he says, inclining his head. "I should not intrude on a privacy you clearly value."

Ruth looks, as always, as if she has grown from where she stands. She cants her head, draws a brow up. "Well, thank you," she murmurs, amiably.

Miki's shoulders sag. He does not do anything so ungraceful as to pout, but his face grows so carefully expressionless that his disappointment is clear anyway.

Anderja's brow lift a touch at Ruth's reticence. Then he smiles and looks away. "So, fiatal szeretett," he says fondly, "What have you found to occupy yourself with today?"

Thoroughly acquainted with reticence, Ruth draws an apple from a basket on the counter, sets to paring it into neat slices. She quirks a corner of her mouth up.

Rex carefully opens the outside door while holding some kind of dish covered with a towel. He props the door with his shoulder and sort of rotates his way through the opening into the room, where he pauses, somewhat alarmed at the mob of people. His eyes travel from one face to another. A thin line of steam rises through the towel, and the delectable scent of baked apples rapidly fills the room.

Miki smiles tentatively up at Anderja. "I have been investigating the Ghost Dance among the townsfolk, and the woods. They are full of the little not-ghosts, and--" his recitation is cut off by the entrance of Rex, who wins the first complete and unguarded smile he's produced yet today.

Safi glances to the newcomer, and then to Ruth. "If you are hungry... I am going to ...cook the rabbit, I think."

Anderja glances sharply toward the door, following his brother's smile. A split second later he relaxes and looks back at Miklos, an almost speculative gleam in his pale eyes. Then Ruth has his attention again, and Safi. "Your own kill?" he asks Safi.

Safi looks to the pale man, and nods wordlessly.

"Do you use traps?" the man asks, with anomolous curiosity, one hunter comparing notes with another.

Ruth looks up from the apple's work, glances at Safi. She cants her head, then nods. "Think I know where some spices might be that'll work right for that, though you're welcome to the rabbits." She looks back at Anderja, then to Safi, nudges the other woman with a hip.

Rex breaks into a grin at Miki and starts to say, "Hey! Mi--" and then catches Anderja's look and presence. Mixed emotions ripple over his face. Then he wrenches his eyes back to Miki as Anderja goes off on talking shop with Safi. "Uh. Miki! Look! I made apple pies an' thought I should bring one over. Wanna try a piece?"

Safi's accent is almost as strange as the brothers' own. "Some times. Some times... hand, or knife." She glances over to Ruth, and gives a childlike smile of gratitude.

"You made them?" asks Miki, slowly moving away from his brother's shadow. "I would like a piece very much!"

Anderja's eyes slide sideways as Miklos moves away, but only for a moment. Then his stance shifts subtlety, his back turning more toward the pair of young men, his face and attention toward the women. "Have you spoken about it with Miklos? He is a skilled hunter, as well."

Rex is almost palpably Not Looking at Anderja, focusing all his attention on Miki. "Yeah! My mama sent up a buncha recipes and some spices from home with the Turtletop. I'll make her curry soon." He sets the pie down on the table and carefully removes the towel. The pie steams gently through the slits in the bulging golden crust. "Miss Anita let me use her oven -- I been workin' on it all day. I left one pie with her, and one with the Collinses, an' brought one here." He looks toward the kitchen. "Lemme go get a server."

Safi's smile widens, and she nods. "We have-- we talk about it yesterday," she says, her voice quiet. A glance to Miklos, and she takes a deep breath. "It smells very good," she observes, leaning a bit to glance to Rex.

Ruth's smile has gotten back, warms the lines of her broad face. She grins at Rex, settles back against the counter.

Miki looks at Rex, not at the pie, but he says, "It looks very good. And smells even better than that." He sits down, a little too abruptly, in one of the chairs at the table Rex set the pie down on.

Rex trots over to the counter and reaches into one of the drawers behind it, producing a knife and a cake server. He snatches up a stack of plates and returns to his pie. "It ain't as good as Mama's," he says apologetically. "I can pretty much guarantee it." He cuts into the crust and a small torrent of steam rises. With some work, he manages to extricate a slightly messy slice. "You can have this 'un, or I can cut you a nice one," he says to Miki. "Anyone else for a slice?"

Anderja nods, pleased. "Forgive me a moment," he says politely, nodding toward the counter with the food that has been set out. "I will be right back - if you do not mind my joining you, that is."

Ruth cants her head, glances at Safi.

"That one is fine for me," says Miki. "Thank you." He smiles at Rex, a little more tentatively this time, trying to catch his gaze.

Safi's eyes sharpen, and she watches Anderja closely.

"Why don't we get those rabbits ready?" Ruth asks, mildly.

Anderja gives Safi a faintly puzzled - but still pleasant - look, and slips away to the counter. He drops something small and shining - not a coin - into the offering basket, and then takes his time considering the menu options, allowing the apple-pie serving to progress without his somewhat represseive presence.

When it's evident nothing spectacular will happen, Safi looks over to Ruth and gives a quick nod, a guileless smile. Then she goes into the kitchen, pulling a broad-bladed knife from a sheath at her waist. She sets to work dressing the two rabbits, skinning them and cutting the meat away from the bone.

Ruth shoulders her satchel, steps away from the counter and follows Safi to the kitchen. The pack is set somewhere out of view, a clatter of buckles, and she sets herself to exploring the cabinets.

Rex hands Miki the plate with the first slice and, finally, catches gazes with the white-haired boy. His face, which had been held in a certain amount of tension, clears suddenly and his smile breaks out through the clouds. "Hey," he says in a low-ish voice.

Miki ducks his face, but not fast enough to hide the blush. "Hey," he responds, very quietly.

Rex smiles at Miki for a long, long moment, evidently lost in the other boy's eyes.

Anderja picks and chooses from the available breads, cheeses, and fresh vegetables at a leisurely rate. Eventually, when his plate is modestly filled, he drifts back to the others, and comes to stand at Miki's side, a few inches behind him. His free hand settles on the boy's shoulder, and he smiles warmly at Rex. "That smells delicious," he says courteously. "Your mother must be a very gifted woman."

Miki turns his head slightly, so that his hair drifts over Anderja's hand, but he does not break eye contact with Rex.

The appearance of Miki's brother in Rex's frame of reference has the effect of utterly shattering the affectionate and peaceful smile. He looks down at the table quickly, unable to even look at Anderja. "Thank you, sir. She is. It's amazin' that she has all that time to cook and bake in between killin' Corruptor things." He cuts another slice and shovels it over -- somewhat carelessly -- onto a plate. "Would you like a piece?"

"Thank you, Rex," Anderja says gently. "That's--very generous of you." And he sets the plate he filled at the counter down off to one side, leaving the pie to be his focus.

Miki looks down at his plate and discovers that he has pie, so he takes a bite.

Rex extends the plate with the -- despite all his lack of effort -- perfect slice of pie on it toward Anderja. Although he looks in that general direction, his eyes keep sliding away from the older man, like a magnet repelled by another magnet's same pole.

Anderja drops his hand from his brother's shoulder to tug out a chair for himself beside Miklos. He seats himself and takes a small bite, savoring the pie with obvious pleasure. "Rex, this is truly excellent."

Miki takes another couple of bites, still looking, perhaps a trifle anxiously, at Rex's face. "It's very good," he ventures.

Rex cuts himself a small slice and tweaks his chair's position to some LeGrange point in the brothers' orbit -- as far from Anderja as possible while still being close to Miki. "Thanks," he says, studying his plate. He takes a bite and chews thoughtfully. "Not quite sweet enough," he murmurs. "Apples musta been extra-tart."

"I like it tart," says Miki softly, looking down at his plate.

"The tartness is nice," Anderja says. "Not cloying. Tantalizing."

Rex raises his shoulders in what might have once been a shrug, but is now almost an elderly librarian's hunch. "Ah, well," he sighs, although the exhalation fails to relax the tension in his neck and upper body. "I suppose I hafta practice to be as good at this as Mama."

Anderja eats slowly in appreciative silence. Perhaps he hopes to let the two age-mates resume their conversation.

Miki is silent as well, eating the crust of the pie with his fingers. His eyes are downcast.

Rex eats his own pie, staring into space mostly, but darting a glance at Miki from time to time.

As he finishes his pie, Anderja slides a look at his younger brother. Then he stands up, collects his dishes, pushes his chair back in, and says - with no apparent sarcasm at all - "Thank you so much. I've really enjoyed this, but I'm afraid I must be going." He collects the plate he filled from the counter and turns toward the kitchen. As he does so, the food vanishes from the filled plate, and it is two meticulously cleaned plates that he leaves for the washing.

Miki stops eating, half the crust of his pie in his fingers, and his gaze follows his brother and then turns, slightly pleadingly, to Rex.

Delicious smells begin wafting from the kitchen, and now and then there is a clattering sound. Eventually, Safi comes to the doorway and peers out. "Will any-one have some rabbit?" she asks quietly.

Rex looks up at Anderja's depature, then back to Miki, offering a hesitant smile before looking to Safi. "Uh, er, no, ma'am. Thank you kindly, though."

Anderja pauses at the doorway, with the beautiful door already half-opened. "Thank you again, Rex," he says softly. "I'm glad to see that Miki has found such a good friend." He steps out into the late afternoon haze of rain and mist, and is gone.

A tiny shudder makes Rex's shoulders shake for just a moment after Anderja departs.

Miki looks thoughtfully after his brother for a long moment before returning his mind to the room he's currently in with a shake of his head. "Oh, more food? No thank you, not right now. I am... very full. But you are kind to offer."

Safi nods, not seeming doubtful or insulted at all; then she tips her head, and studies Rex, remembering something. "Why do you not eat... animals?" she asks curiously. "Is it-- part of your people ways?"

Miki thoughfully nibbles the rest of the piecrust away and then licks his fingers, completely unselfconscious about it.

Rex looks baffled. "Uh. No? No. My people a-are lions," he says. "I mean, lion-changers. We eat meat all..." He notices Miki's finger-licking. "...the .... time."

Safi blinks. "I thought you were from the farm?" She gives Miklos a questioning look. "He said... the farm people, they eat no animals."

"He stays at the Farm sometimes," says Miki thoughfully, running a finger through the sticky apple juice left on the plate. "But you weren't born there, were you, Rex?" He turns a look of mild inquiry on the other boy and pops his finger in his mouth.

"Oh, no, ma'am," Rex says, seemingly relieved to have it explained. "I ain't from the Farm. I stay here in town with Miss Anita. I just run out to the Farm on errands." His eyes keep wandering back to Miki, though. "I was born in Mississippi. Only came t'town about a year ago."

Miki puts his elbows on the table and rests his chin in his hands, pushing his plate away.

Safi flushes slightly, for no apparent reason. She gives a vague nod of understanding, not quite catching all the same words.

Rex stands suddenly, picking up his plate. "I... um... I've gotta get back to Miss Anita's place. To do some dishes. Um. Miki? Y'wanna come and keep me company?" He eyes Anderja's clean dishes with some envy -- or something -- and stacks his dirty plate for the usual folks to take care of.

Something in the room confuses Safi--the current between the two men, perhaps. Without speaking another word, she disappears into the kitchen to tend to her own dinner.

Miki looks after Safi, a slightly confused look drifting briefly over his face, before turning to Rex. "Sure," he says. "I can help." And he stands up, collecting his own plate.

Rex sets his pie on the counter with the towel draped over it for other folks to have some as they like, and steps to the door. "Great!" He shoots a fond smile at Miki. "Miss Anita's been wantin' to meet you."

Miki follows Rex out, answering his smile with one of his own.

Rex pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.
Rex has left.

You push open the well-oiled door and walk outside.