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I was unhappy when I awoke, because my stitches had all stiffened up. I limped into the living room, looking for a warm lap or at least some sympathy. Meeze and Sasha and Terry were all still at the table, talking about Lynn Tarragon.

Sasha clucked to me and picked me up, managing not to jostle anything any more than could be helped. I collapsed against him in relief. His outer soul couldn’t do all the bells and whistles the way Pharaoh’s could in terms of the warm-me-up thing, but it was still his. I meatloafed as best I could, trying to keep most of my weight on my paws.

Meeze said, “So can you run her DNA from her teacup, Sash?”

“Sure I can. But it still somehow seems wrong. Invasive.”

Terry was shaking his head. “And I still can’t wrap my head around it. I tell you, I know this chick. Granted, we’ve had a long patch or two of being out of touch, but I would have noticed.”

“If she’s fy’foxi, you couldn’t have noticed,” Sasha disagreed. “She would have given you nothing to notice with. First line of interference: Todeschlagi Grail. Only other Toadies like Meeze can spot them to begin with. Second line of interference: What the old folks call the Shield of Adamant, or as it’s put in medical terms, the Q-band emitter omission. That cuts out everybody but a master sorcerer–again, like Meeze–and only if they’re really looking.”

“I always deep-ping,” said Meeze with pride.

“We know, and it’s annoying,” Terry said. The sorcerer laughed.

So Meeze was genetically House Todeschlag? That explained a few things. I had by now gotten good at telling the ethnic variations apart, and despite being House Firenzi nobility–once Head of House, apparently–he didn’t match the other couple of Firenzi I knew. There was a sort of crossbreed Th’nashi called Knightsblood-Firenzi, and he was close to that, but–

My musings were interrupted by Terry slamming a fist on the table. “I should have been there. I should have been there for her. None of my friends should have to go through bullshit like that.”

Sasha hmm’ed. “Speaking of having gone through all that trauma, I’m not in the slightest bit comfortable in breaking the news to her that she’s an alien. I’ve seen people snap over far less.”

“Unless Rita turns out to be a Grail,” Meeze pointed out, “a conversation has to be had there and pronto. All we need is for her fangs to come in before she’s properly brought home.”

“Brought home,” Terry snarled. “Shield of Adamant. This is all sounding like a bad Th’nashi romance. I’ve never even met an actual a’thanila before.” I yawned to cover my surprise at this. Terry, Bast bless him, could be dense sometimes. Actually, he had one close at hand, in social terms. Meeze’s cousin Sean McPherson, the Prince of the House of Firenzi, was an a’thanila–a Th’nashi adopted and raised by humani. Nobody knew there was anything special about Sean until he hit puberty and the descent of his fangs panicked both him and his adoptive mothers to within inches of their lives. Sean was married to Eamon Davenant, and I had heard Eamon tell the story of how his mothers-in-law had schemed to steal blood from the hospital where one of them worked when their son showed signs of needing it.

Of course, the chance was high that he wouldn’t figure out that he had blood vents under his tongue leading to a different organ entirely, and that he’d just drink the blood instead and get sick, like as not. But Sean was lucky, and, being horrible behind the wheel of anything more dangerous than a bumper car, had rear-ended a Lion on the Interstate during driving practice. Wackiness ensued, according to Eamon, with a good deal of who’s-on-first type confusion, but it all got worked out in the end. But I guessed Terry hadn’t been there for that story.

“Yes, you have, you dummy,” said Meeze. “Sean is a’thanila. And he turned out fine. Late fanger, though. I don’t recall–is this kid developing yet?” He cupped his hands over his chest.

Sasha scowled at him. “If that’s your classy way of inquiring if she’s hit puberty, yes, she has. But I’d say she’s four or five years away from fanging. Plenty of time to ease onto the topic. First things first,” he said, handing me to Terry instead of putting me down. He got up and gathered Lynn’s teacup. “Let me run this through the lab this afternoon and we’ll see what we have.”

Terry cradled me with caution. I purred to reassure him. I usually didn’t like being held with my tummy up, but right now it felt divine. “Let’s not make any hasty phone calls or anything when the tests come back, ‘k, Sash? Not until we all talk about it. And by ‘all,’ I mean that you don’t have to be dealt in to cope with the bees’ nest you’ve uncovered,” he said to Meeze. “But it would be nice if this didn’t spread through the dai’yadi.” “Dai’yadi” was a loosely-defined term for the people they hung out with/their friends/the Council including the cubs, etc.–in Cat the word came through as “Family” with both ears twitched back and whiskers forward.

“Iffen you say so,” said Meeze. He sighed in half-mock self-pity. “I had hoped to entice you out to play for a bit, but now I’ve got to go back to the Pit.” Which was where all the building-levitating sorcerers were. He tapped my nose with the end of the braid and left–through the door; Meeze hated to gate, saying it made him nauseated.

After Sasha had taken off too, Terry sat at the table with me in his arms, article long forgotten. At last he sighed and got up, careful not to jostle me. I was beginning to enjoy this.

“Eureka, what Sasha and I have is convenient and comfortable. But he’s my Grail Consort more than my lover. He just tolerates me on most days. Blood, sex, old friendship. Back when we were kids and it was new and shiny I was too preoccupied with the beginnings of coming-out angst to let myself go and just love him. But for a brief couple of months, I loved Aria with everything I had.” He sighed and tickled me under the chin. “But Daddy doesn’t need to know that, okay?” He wasn’t hearing it from me.

“Twenty-five years and a hundred pounds and a pile of Todeschlagi DNA notwithstanding, if Arianlyn Tarragon thinks she’s keeping her little girl in a car again, she’ll answer to me,” he muttered. Which did him credit. I purred and passed out again.

I awoke on the bed, in my usual spot by Sasha’s pillow. Terry was nowhere to be seen. I appreciated his thoughtfulness in placing me where he had, but I had to pee. I mewed in pain as I hit the floor with a thud that vibrated through my full bladder to the surgical site. I barely made it to the pan, and when I was done, I dry-heaved a moment or two. I crawled into the little cave Terry had made with the new electric blanket and my cat bed and felt sorry for myself.

It was late afternoon and time for cartoons, so after a while I struggled out of my den and made it downstairs, unsure as to whether or not it was better or worse than it had been that morning. I was depressed and bored. What was the point of anything? Life was just a round of eating and using the pan, with TV thrown in between to lull us into a false sense of security. And then there was pain, and sickness, and loss, and finally it all stopped. Did we really go to make an account to Bast before going back for another life? The humans said we had only nine. What if they were right, and this was it for me?

Oh, and of course. It was Bart and Matt on tonight, and they played video games instead of watching their TV as Bast meant it to be used. Even more morose, I slumped on out into the empty living room, looking for the remote. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be, which was behind the big TV in a nice warm spot where the napping was good and I could “accidentally” lie on it to turn the thing on. Nope, nowhere to be seen. Spiffy. Groovy. Better and better.

Terry was back in the dining room. This time he really was working on his article, listening to the Kinks on his laptop and spreading magazines and academic journals all over one end of the table. I had to resort to extending my claws into his jeans before he broke concentration enough to so much as bend down and pet me.

“Kibble in the kitchen, kiddo. Woo, I are the Alliteration King.” He was cheerful. Work always made Terry happy–unless it was Contract-related. Then it was his turn to go around like a rainy Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t hungry, but since when does that stop anybody in the First World from eating? I slouched along, noticing that the pain and the stiffness were less, but who cared when we were all going to die soon anyway?

Oh my Bast, were they kidding me? This was dog food! Dog food could build up ash in my system and kill me! Whatever ash was. I heard Mrs. Roaman say so. I sat in front of my bowl and yowled like Pavarotti until the baffled and angry Terry came out.

“What the frip, Eureka? I ain’t cooking right–whoa.” He looked at the bag Matt had left open on the counter and started to laugh. “Somebody got the right color bag, but the wrong manufacturer. This won’t kill you for one night, Eureka.”

“Yes, it will. I’m frail post-surgery. Go ask Sasha.” I rubbed around his ankles in irritation, hoping it wouldn’t need a Crucio to translate.

Terry groaned and threw up his hands. “On the other hand, if Daddy comes back and finds this to-do . . . Some things are so not worth it.“ He trotted off to yell at the cubs. Benefits of one’s staff having staff, as it were.

I decided to have a wash in self-congratulation on having made my human behave properly on an important point. As I was exploring my incision, Sasha came in, with Terry on his heels.

“Eureka Van der Linden, if I catch you chewing at your stitches . . .”

“I wasn’t chewing, I was licking,” I said. “And Terry is ignoring me. And Matt got me dog food, which is poisonous, I tell you. Didn’t they teach you anything in medical school?”

“This is dog food! Who got her dog food?” Oh goody. Somebody was gonna get it now. I curled my tail around my paws and looked as soulful as possible.

“Chill, Sash. It was an honest mistake. I already sent the kid back to the store. It won’t kill her. Will it?” Terry ended, with some doubt in his voice. “I’m sure cats on the street eat worse.”

“It’s lacking some important vitamins and aminos,” said Sasha. “Cats, especially young ones, need lots of taurine. Dogs can make their own.”

“Sounds like evolutionary superiority to me. Hey! Kidding! Only kidding!” Sasha had socked him one on the arm that looked painful, alien vampire resilience or no. “So what did Lynn’s test say, already? Give.”

Sasha sighed and picked up my bowl. He said, “Got ourselves a bouncing baby Th’nashi, all right. Grail from House Todeschlag. And you know what that means.”

Terry said, “Don’t pitch the dog food. I’ll have Joel run it by St. Crispin’s. They have a food pantry. And no, I don’t.”

Sasha concentrated very hard on pouring the kibble back into the bag for some poverty-stricken pooch to appreciate. I heard the sniff in my own thoughts and remembered the nice Chihuahua from the car ride. I felt guilty. No doubt about it, I was getting spoiled to death. I started to get depressed again.

“Sasha?” Terry prodded.

“The Kaiser of Todeschlag, Terry. All their Grails belong to the Kaiser. Remember?” Belong to? What did they mean?

“Yeah, but.” Terry stopped.

“But?”

“But . . . She’s a’thanila. Surely he’d cut her some slack.”

Sasha rummaged in the odds-and-ends cupboard, coming out with some packing tape. He repaired the slit Matt had made in the bag, his outer soul radiating negative absolute zero. “Fy’foxi are perhaps the rarest Grails there are. Think of Lynn as a collector’s item–a hot pink Van Gogh or something. And when you throw in the fact that the entire House comes up with a Grail in only one out of twenty births in the first place, hence reinforcing the good ol’ Grail slavery notion–”

Terry said, “Grail slavery. My Aria.” He was pale.

Sasha cocked his head, eyes alert as a sparrow’s. “Your what?”

Terry sighed. “Never mind for now. Sasha, we can’t tell her. Of course we can’t.”

Sasha made himself even busier with the now sealed bag, shaking it to settle the food and turning away from Terry to find a spot for it on the counter by the back door. “We may not have a lot of choice, Terr. You’re the archimago, and if some Toadie sorcerer happens by and spots her just like Meeze did, what with politics being politics, it can be construed as Grail theft.”

I winced as Terry’s outer soul screamed in outrage–he was struck speechless–and reconsidered my lot. Somehow belonging to the Kaiser of Todeschlag didn’t seem like the cushy gig I had, belonging to Alexei Van der Linden, occasional dog food notwithstanding. And slavery? I riffled through my memories of the few documentaries I’d seen and shuddered. I felt worried for Lynn, whom I barely knew and had accused me in rhetoric as being uncomplicated, and worse for Rita. My Bast, what about Rita?

“And what about Rita?” Terry demanded.

Sasha shrugged and shook his head. “Right now, we know that she’s not Lafe Tarragon’s child, as Toadies can’t breed with humani. All we can do tonight is say a prayer that the real daddy is another House and passed his on to the baby instead. Kid’s probably a Fang anyway, Terr. Let’s not borrow trouble. I’ll get a teacup from her soon enough.”

Matt came into the kitchen, this time with the right bag. “I’m very sorry, sir. Sorry, Eureka.” He refilled the bowl Sasha had left on the counter and put it down, brows furrowed as he tried to work out whether the ping in the room was the grownups being mad at him. I headbutted him in thanks and reassurance, and he scrunched up my ears in gratitude before exiting to his video game.

All of a sudden, Sasha gave Terry a hard half hug. “We’ll figure something out, Terry. You have money and power, and Meeze and I have brains.” He grinned.

“Hey!” But it made Terry laugh, so I laughed too. Then I went for my kibble. It tasted extra yummy, as if they had put in special fancy taurine. Sufficient unto the day.

 

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