January snow spun into February slush, but on the 13th a freak storm powdered all the grayish brown white again. I heard Lynn pass the house on her way to church that morning–Dante was preaching–and was all fluffed up against the windowseat back when they returned a couple hours later. The snow was good for snowballs and the like, and they were playing in it like children. Aww. I still had my doubts about the Lynn and Dante thing. He always struck me as having secrets–but then, she hadn’t let out a peep about her fling with Pascal until she had her nose rubbed in it, so what did I know? Despite Terry’s new proclamation about no more Grail slavery in Nova Terra, she had chosen to stay with the Order anyway, and was happy enough at it. But it hadn’t been very long, she was in love, and honeymoons all end.
Geeze. I caught myself thinking these things and gave myself a good shake. What was my deal? I wasn’t hungry, I had caught my first mouse only the night before–a triumph of patient stalking ending in a frenzy of batting-about that had horrified the squeamish Terry into taking it away and putting it outside, where the red-tail hawk that lived in the neighborhood made quicker work of it three minutes later. Okay, that was annoying, but I was over it.
There had been a six-car pile-up on Memorial Drive that morning, the result of an actual car chase on the icy streets. So Sasha had gone off to supervise, leaving Terry in bed. He was only getting up now, or at least stirring. I ran upstairs and bounced onto the bed, getting him square in the bladder. This made him cry out and call me a couple of things I probably deserved, and he got up. He still hadn’t forgiven me when he came out of the bathroom, and told me I should beat it if I knew what was good for me. I retreated to the doorway, but he went so far as to look for something to chuck at me. Even something as fluffy as a pillow would be annoying, so off I went, feeling abused. “What’s with him this morning, I ask you?” I asked no-one, as I continued back downstairs. He didn’t have any business being in bed until noon, anyway.
Devon was training a new kid, so they weren’t watching TV or playing games, and I already knew most of the gossip he was passing along, so after nosing around in the guard room for a few minutes and getting petted a little, which helped, but not much, I went back to the kitchen. Nibbled some kibble; camped for a few minutes in front of the sink listening for any telltale sounds that the caulking had been defeated. Nope. On down to the basement–where I stopped dead on the third stair, hunkering down my outer soul to nearly nothing, and being glad my dark blue fur blended me into shadows.
Steffi and Pharaoh were making out in the hot tub.
I knew they were friendly, but I hadn’t seen this coming! How serious was this? Where was Hans? She never went anywhere without him. But then I figured it out. She had gone to visit Pharaoh at his home in Jamaica Plain, and Hans was no doubt visiting with Tuck, Hiroshi’s springer spaniel, whom I’d never met. And Pharaoh had gated them over here to enjoy the sprawl of the 12-human hot tub. I realized my tail was twitching and I made it stop. Or tried. It had a mind of its own, which meant I was aggravated. But why?
Steffi was giggling and pretending to try to make him stop, but her outer soul was wildly happy. His was a mix of smug satisfaction and yes, a slice of pure animal hope, vow of chastity be damned. Lion Quartermain would be losing an inch of hair in chapter that week if he had anything to say about it. It should have been cute. I was very fond of both these people. What was wrong with me?
Things didn’t seem to be progressing to anything I could call educational, so I trudged back upstairs, running into Devon in the kitchen, who was making lunch for himself and the new kid. He laughed.
“Get a surprise down there? I can’t tell through the ping baffles he threw up. All I know is I’m supposed to sing out when either Terry or Sasha or Dante show up. She’s a nice lady. I hope it works out.” He ruffled my fur and offered me a sliver of hot dog, which I gobbled. I wondered what would happen if he bit her. He had the native Toxin K, being Knightsblood, but her Toxin F would coax his body into rapid decomposition. This stung my soul. Oh no! Would he be careful! Did this canoodle require intervention? My happy morsel of hot dog turned to greasy rock in my stomach.
I went back to doze in front of the window, my new worry threading through my dreams. I kept telling myself that Pharaoh was a big boy, a smart boy, and that all the Lions carried antivenin, just in case–but he had inched his way into my heart, until I loved him as much as I did Sasha and Terry. I was ecstatic when Sasha’s elderly Volvo pulled into the driveway. Now there’d be a stop to this!
With Sasha was his Lion partner and office flunky, Taillefer Araimfres; and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not at seeing the friendly ginger doctor for his own sake, but because I now recalled Pharaoh telling me that the two of them had grown up together. Taillefer was the crossbreed type Knightsblood-Firenzi, and during their so’fir’aa, when Taillefer’s deadly venom was just starting to develop, Pharaoh’s father had him chew Pharaoh and his brothers raw, so they would get a natural resistance to it. This had worked so well that Pharaoh secreted tiny amounts of it himself. Steffi held no harm for him–except maybe in the romantic department, but even I knew that they were both on their own there.
I came out to greet my small blond daddy and his tall muscular friend. Sasha was cheerful, which meant he had gone through the morning’s gore without finding any dead children for a change.
“Hey Eureka, Lazybones up yet?”
“I tried,” I told him. “He’s sulking upstairs.” Sasha sighed as if he had understood me–or at least my plaintive tone–and told Taillefer to make himself at home.
“You may as well head on down to the tub. I’ll catch you there in a few.”
Uh-oh. Devon was upstairs talking to Terry, and the new kid was tinkering with some addition to the game system they had just bought. I ran ahead of the doctor and down the stairs.
Things still seemed to be in a holding pattern in terms of where hands, etc. were, but I took no chances.
“Sasha!” I yowled. Pharaoh gratified me by jumping two feet. The former Kaiserin laughed in delight.
“Oh my, Kätzchen, it sounded just like you said your papa’s name.” To Pharaoh: “I love it when animals do that. We should put Eureka on YouTube.”
Pharaoh choked with laughter. “You put Eureka on YouTube. I value my nubbly bits too much to brave such a thing. Sasha has both a gun and access to scalpels.” He sent forth his outer soul in a spell that arrowed through the house. Steffi and I were both impressed when the data came back in the form of a little wireframe of the house, with glowing dots indicating people. As we all watched, one of the dots came down the basement stairs in the form of Taillefer Araimfres.
Pharaoh turned the jets of the tub on in ostensible politeness to his friend, but I suspect it might have been more because he had what Terry referred to as a “happy lap.”
Taillefer wasn’t stupid, and he paused, unwilling to interrupt a tete-a-tete, but the other two humans had cuddled themselves into a giddy happiness and urged him to come on in. Pharaoh gave Steffi a teasing whack on the arm as she watched Taillefer get undressed. I was pleased that she was ogling the poor guy, him being a mass of freckle and fur. But underneath it all, he had fighting master muscles, which showed her good taste. Taillefer himself, unused to being admired, completed the picture by blushing deep rose all over his body, but all the humans pretended he wasn’t. Our dai’yadi worked a little overtime to be nice to Taillefer, because he did work for Sasha, after all.
After a while, Sasha came on downstairs, his good mood blunted–by Terry, I presumed. Sheesh. All it had been was one playful pounce. I went upstairs to see if I could wheedle my way back into his affections and get him out of the grouchies.
Terry was sitting at his desk in a bathrobe and sweats, which signified that he was prepared to go on down to the tub and be social, but email had caught him first. With caution, I tiptoed over to him and rubbed my ears on his calves in apology, mrring my most appealing I’m-sorry. (What I actually said was, “I don’t believe a word of it. Pull the other one,” because it sounds heart-rending in Cat to the untutored human ear.)
He grinned. “It’s ok, sweetheart. Daddy’s over it. I still love you.” He patted his lap and I watched him check e-mail, amusing myself by practicing my reading. Pharaoh had once evaluated it as being on about a third-grade level, so I didn’t get very far. But I did see the words “Vai’ada Statute,” this being the kill-the-accidental-humani-who-tumbles-to-us bit, and I could appreciate his bleak mood. Was this what I was picking up?
But no; he went downstairs and made merry enough, leaving me still depressed. Maybe I need Prozac, I wondered, and turned on the remote to a self-help show. The theme was Valentine’s Day–a little early, but what the hell–and that’s when I figured it out.
It was Valentine’s Day, and we had now two couples around doing the dating thing–hell, three, if Joel’s girlfriend counted. Sean and Eamon had been at the house last night, going over their plans: They were meeting for afternoon high tea at the Plaza Hotel tomorrow afternoon, and they had already arranged to have their daughter Fiona, who was 12, sleep over with Rita Monday night, so as to get their romance on.
But my daddies weren’t making any plans; were edgy around the whole subject. They didn’t do romance, and it was depressing me. And as for me–well, if Steffi was going to frolic in our tub, the least she could do would be to bring Hans, so I’d have somebody to talk to. I sighed. It wasn’t just the daddies. It wasn’t just the romance. I was yet another single person, and we were coming up on the day of the year when it is least cool to be alone.
Later on that night, I watched Terry take his usual hit of Sashan O+, trying to discern–what? Tenderness? Appreciation? Or did he just take it for granted? I curled up in my spot, but couldn’t purr for Sasha, which disappointed him I think, but I was just ready to sleep as much of the next day through as I could.
And I tried, but of course next morning they both got up nice and early and did their morning routine in their usual choreography of stay-out-of-his-way. It was a teaching day for Terry, so it was down to me, Matt, and the mice. Matt had to study for an Economics exam, and the mice in the basement had some hidden tunnel system to the outdoors that made me insane. I decided to practice pronouncing “Prozac” to let Pharaoh know that maybe a trip to Hiroshi was in order.
Both daddies were late, which made the everlasting day longer and grayer. But when Devon and Terry came home, they were carrying odd bags.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Terry sighed.
“Dude, it’s Valentine’s Day. I mean sir.” Devon opened the first of the bags, which smelled like some human perfume that would make me sneeze. “Special stuff for the tub, check.” He rattled the other bags, which I realized contained flowers. “Bouquet of roses, check. And . . .” He reached into another florist’s bundle, and scattered a handful of petals all over the entryway. “Path of rose petals, check. Now you go upstairs and put on the satin sheets.”
“I really can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Terry groaned. But he drew his thumb down the center of his chest, which was the Lion gesture that meant “Obedience,” and up he went.
I helped Devon get an even distribution of the rose petals, which were reasonably tasty. Then he told the new kid that they were ordering pizza and not poking their noses out for the rest of the night.
“It’s Valentine’s Day. Give ‘em some privacy.”
Terry came down into the kitchen and rattled around, making good smells. I could feel his outer soul argue with itself: Would the often-grumpy Sasha go along with this piece of schlocky almost-very-married romance? We hoped so.
But six and then seven o’clock came, and no Sasha. His phone was refusing calls, which meant he was in the middle of something he considered more important than people. Terry put the dinner (orange chicken! At least I got some!) away and went down to mope in the tub, forgetting the new bubble bath on the dining room table.
At ten o’clock, he decided to just go to bed early. “At least I like satin sheets,” he said to me. “I shouldn’t be bummed. He’s a doctor, and a Lion. But . . . This was going to be It, Eureka. I was gonna say the scary words. Did you know we’ve never done that?” My eyes widened. Sure, I’d never actually heard them say it, but never? My heart hardened against Sasha. Unromantic fink.
Finally, at eleven o’clock, we heard the downstairs door and pinged Sasha’s shock as he froze, contemplating the rose petals inviting him upstairs. Then up he came, Terry trying to find something to do with his face that was better than “shit-eating grin” but failing.
Sasha came into the doorway and their eyes met. Terry lost the grin and looked and pinged a rare vulnerability. My heart was pounding.
Sasha didn’t take off his outer coat. Instead, he reached into the long, classy alpaca and took something out of his pocket.
“This little guy was born in the alley behind the morgue. Off-season. Hiroshi’s had him for a week, doing the worming thing and whatnot. Thought you might like him. Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said, almost as an afterthought.
He handed Terry a squirming gray tabby kitten, no more than five or six weeks old. He’d still be getting his kibble soaked in milk.
Terry’s face glowed. After a moment, “I think I’ll name this tiny lion Mercy. It’s traditional.” Then, “I love you, Sasha.” All of creation went silent. I was on my way over the blankets to meet the kitten, but I froze.
Sasha’s face went through a number of expressions. If he says he’s just the Grail Consort, I’ll piss on his shorts, I thought.
He walked over to Terry, looking down on him, face and ping still unreadable. Then he reached out and put his hand on the nape of Terry’s neck, and pulled his face up into the fiercest kiss I’d ever seen.
“I love you too, Terr’.” The kiss lengthened, until Mercy yipped, “Gotta pee!”
Oh Bast. I shot in there and scruffed him, dragging him down the stairs, wending my way among the rose petals. All I needed was to slip on the damn things and go ass over teakettle down the steps. Break the little bugger’s neck probably.
His bladder had given him just enough notice for him to comply with me muttering, “Hold it, kid!” as best I could until we made the litter pan in the study. I could hear the daddies coming down behind me–Where the frip was I taking the kitten?–I could ping their concern. They could thank me later.
And they did. We all stood around and watched Mercy scratch — “Don’t kick the litter outside of the box,” I warned–and Terry wondered aloud, “How did she know?”
“Eureka’s a genius. Natural mother. Had no worries at all,” Sasha bragged. He was lying–his outer soul had reached out to me with a plea of panic as soon as he’d entered the bedroom.
Mother. Feh. This was going to be a pain in the ass. I was only eleven months old myself–I knew what kittens were! But I was already making a list in my head of all the things Fred had done to me that I wouldn’t–and, yeah, a few that I would. Old bastard hadn’t been all bad, not by a long chalk.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Terry said softly, arms around Sasha.
“Back at ya, hombre.” They kissed. I sighed. Mercy came up to me and headbutted me. With persistence. I realized that the poor little bastard was looking for a nipple. Oh, Bast.
“Come on, short stuff. Let’s show you around.” I headbutted Sasha, passing on Mercy’s persistence, until he paid attention. I led the way to the kitchen. En route, Mercy tried for my tail. Yep, literal pain in the ass.
But as Terry reheated Sasha’s dinner and Mercy gobbled down his moist kitten chow with his tail spiraling like a helicopter, I realized I wasn’t depressed anymore. I didn’t have time! I also started making a list of the things Devon taught the younger cubs. Busy, busy, busy.
Sasha scooped me up for one of his rare hugs. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he whispered, and for a second I felt a stab of guilt, as I realized Mercy hadn’t entirely been meant for Terry. But only for a second. We were Th’nashi, and this was our now enlarged dai’yadi. We shared.
Besides, I was now senior cat! Who’da thunk it?