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After a couple of months, the rhythm of my new life sank in. Every Tuesday there was another council breakfast meeting, and by the very next one I was allowed to have lox–but not too much. Sasha growled like a junkyard dog at people being too generous. This was good parenting and good sense, although I failed to appreciate it. One Tuesday afternoon, after everybody had gone their way, the Lion cub who was on duty guarding the house let me have my fill of the leftovers. It all stayed down for only twenty minutes. This made both of us unhappy for a number of different reasons.

“Ok, Eureka, you don’t tell Sasha, I don’t tell Sasha,” Joel sighed as he plied the paper towels. I would have no intention of telling Sasha, because he would be insufferable at being proven right. But seeing as the only human I knew to tell lived on the other side of the planet, and that I couldn’t imagine raising such a subject in a casual chat, it was a moot point.

On the other weekdays except for Thursday, Terry went in to teach history at Harvard, which seemed to piss everybody off. They resented his insistence on keeping a day job despite being an archimago, but I sympathized. He hadn’t run for the office or anything–it didn’t work that way. Th’nashi in general didn’t have elections. Rather, people ganged up on you and appointed–or anointed–you for the important jobs. Terry had been a minor Famous Person, a video maker of all things, who had led a colorful life which included surviving being very rich, serious child abuse, and going to Sing Sing for three years on felony narcotics charges.

I’m not sure how that added up to making him the go-to guy for the most complicated piece of real estate the Th’nashi had, and I don’t think Terry was sure either. But he had Dante Fabrizio to tell him what to do, and that seemed to make it okay with everybody.

It was unfair, I thought. The Privy Councillor had even more day job than Terry did. He was an Episcopal priest with a counseling degree in psychology, who taught at the Harvard Divinity School and even took patients. But nobody fussed at him about it. He was just like that. Like almost all Lions of Mercy, he was a big man, 6’5” and clocking in at 240 or so, but he always managed to be immaculate if not splendorific in his attire, tailored jackets slicking over his massive shoulders like a second skin. Lions swore a vow of poverty (not to mention chastity and obedience) and got by on a piffling little stipend, so I don’t know how he did it, but somehow he was gorgeous. His Lion’s mane of long platinum blond and his copper eyes only topped the sundae. We hated each other on sight.

I’m not a destructive or even a vindictive person by nature, but something about those raw silk trousers started a vibration in my claw beds as soon as he stepped through the door. I swear I never went near them, but one meeting I sort of went ape on Pharaoh’s poor knitting bag, which was made of an alpaca so tight it was waterproof and well-nigh indestructible. I had to do something before I went on what Sasha and Terry called a dangercat, running amok through the house and howling at full force just for the fun of it. I knew that if I did, Dante’s pale eyebrows would raise and he would Say Something.

Even as it was, he started to Say Something to Pharaoh, but my friend just ignored him and plunged his reckless hands into my mayhem and wrestled with my midsection until I was a mass of kitty giggles. The frequency was too high and the volume too soft for human ears, but most Th’nashi could pick up my happiness with their outer souls. The room was on our side, Disrupted Meeting and Destructive Animal be damned. Eureka 1, Dante 0.

On the weekends and Thursday, Terry tried to lounge around the house and goof off, but all too often got dragged off to do archimago stuff somewhere else. I’m assuming this was usually a meeting because he was just famous enough that he’d be noticed if he were off opening a Th’nashi K-Mart or something. This pissed me off, because much of Terry’s goofing off time involved making a lap for a cat, or wielding his laser pointer in a useful way. But there was no help for it. I wished with all my heart that the archimagi got the Cruciate spells, so I could give him a pep talk regarding his stress levels. However, I had to settle instead for the usual: dancing with his ankles in the morning and when he came home, and finding something appealing-looking to do in full sight when he was doing the morose stare-into-space thing. It worked pretty well.

I regret to say that Sasha, on the other hand, was almost never home at all. The man was a workaholic. He was the FBI’s expert on serial and child murders in Boston, holding a concurrent post with the Medical Examiner’s office. Forensic pathology only makes good dinner conversation if you really like those TV shows. I did, but Terry didn’t, and by the time I came on the scene, he had beaten the impulse out of Sasha to share about work. And seeing as Sasha was monosyllabic around humans on his chatty days, this cut down his possible topics by a good amount. Why do couples do this to each other? I tried leaving the big TV downstairs set on Dr. Phil for days, but to no avail.

However, like a lot of introverts, Sasha would talk to me when nobody else was around. Unlike Pharaoh, who knew I could understand him, Sasha was only pretending I could, but that was good enough. Better than good enough; I daresay that despite my hanging on his every word he would have clammed up on me too if he had known the truth. Within a week I had bounced off “loyalty,” skipped “love” and was deep in “adoration,” so I was happy with the status quo.

Sasha was quite the mensch. Cats don’t judge the human physique, as a rule, unless we’re, well, catty, like Fred was. But I had noticed that when all the guys were down in the hot tub, one of their things was not like the other ones: It was missing entirely. Sasha being small of stature (like most Grails), I had figured that he was a bornwoman transsexual, which was interesting but not earthstopping. But the real story chilled my tail. Every once in a while Pharaoh would chat me up with mini dossiers on the crew, and I remember exactly where we were when he told me Sasha’s horrible story.

It was after an evening’s chill session in the tub. Sasha and Terry had been not-quite-squabbling, and I think Sash had had a bad day at work, pathologists being low on the list of on-the-job shits and grins. I had meatloafed myself out of splash range, to be social, and when my putative owner got out, his metaphorical tail was puffy enough that I debated with myself over going upstairs with him early, just out of good fellowship and all.

I decided not to, because the Lion who was Terry’s lawyer was visiting, and Eamon Davenant told good stories–funny ones about cases, touching ones about Ireland, you name it. But Pharaoh noticed my head follow Sasha upstairs, and, unable of course to ask me what was on my mind, his train of thought came up with some additional information for me. So after Dante sailed home and Eamon and Terry went up to the office for some last minute something or other, and the cubs (which was what they called the younger Lions) were about the nightly chores of running the washing machine and taking care of my box, Pharaoh bent close to me and murmured, “I noticed you watching Sasha tonight. Do you know why and how he’s been disfigured?”

I shook my head, nobody else being around, and poked him with a paw to indicate that he should go on, detecting big gossip in the offing. And I wasn’t wrong.

Sasha’s dad was a wealthy senator, and Sasha had been kidnapped by the family chauffeur when he was twelve. The senator refused to cooperate, and the madman heading the gang had taken a hunting knife and sent Sasha’s parts to the local newspaper.

“The poor little boy almost died of it–his urethra closed off and he got a massive kidney infection. Had one once myself, don’t you know. Most painful thing imaginable, believe you me. And on top of being maimed, and kidnapped! The FBI raided the cabin just in time–that’s why he joined the Bureau himself. I tell you, Eureka, I’ve known some tough men and some bad women, but of all the people I know, if you leave sorcery out of it, I’d want Sasha Van der Linden at my back in a dark alley.” I blinked. How to tell Pharaoh that on a small scale I knew what it was to be little and abandoned to die? I gave him a hasty bump with my head and shot off upstairs.

Sasha was already half asleep, but as always, his hands reached for me as I burrowed under the covers.

“Purring like thunder, kitcat. Did ya get lonely downstairs?” I purripped, and he laughed, drifting off with me warm under his chin. Right then and there I decided to grow up to be the sort of person Sasha himself would want at his back in a dark alley, even if it only meant via the content of my character. I felt very small, but then, in human standards, so was Sasha himself. Size really didn’t matter a hill o’ beans.