First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
She woke feeling refreshed, warm, possibly too warm, and hungry.
She turned to find that she was being slept on by both of Carrone’s large cats, and that she was alone in the bed.
One of the cats looked at her, licked her face, and bounded off. The other one sprawled pointedly over her.
Nikol looked down at the cat. It had to weigh at least 25 lbs, and it was making every pound of that known in a surprisingly comfortable manner, its front paws on her chest and its back paws nearly at her knee. “I take it I’m supposed to stay here for a bit?”
The cat murrowled quietly and started purring.
“All right,” she agreed. She wondered when she had started talking to cats.
Probably when she’d picked up someone who happened to talk to them more effectively, although she was pretty sure she’d talked to the camp mouse-killers before that.
“I don’t suppose you know why I’m supposed to stay still.”
“Because,” Aran answered from the doorway, “I want to bring you an apology breakfast because I was kind of a shithead yesterday.”
“You weren’t a shithead,” she protested, and then, because there was no point in not being honest, “well, much of one, at least. We were both tired, we were both upset –“
“So did you mean it? Did you mean the part about us being able to make the decisions together?” He cut in before she’d even finished forming a thought.
She looked over the cat’s ears at him. He was carrying a tray that seemed to have something steaming on it. “What did you find for breakfast?”
He growled at her; the cat at his feet picked up the noise and echoed it.
“None of that,” she told the cat; Aran stopped before the cat did. “The cat,” she clarified. “Yes. I meant it. Yes. Look, I don’t remember much but I remember that. We’ll figure out what we’re doing next together, okay? My plans don’t really do that well,” she added ruefully. “I mean, nobody at all would argue with that one.”
“No, they wouldn’t.” He smirked at her, but the expression seemed shaky. “Hey, Long-tail, can you scoot over?”
The cat on top of Nikol gave him a Look. Slowly – languidly, Nikol had never understood languid until she’d seen a sleepy cat move – the cat shifted to the side of Nikol. She pushed herself into a sitting position, surprised both at how good her head felt and how weak her body felt.
“I thought we weren’t giving them names.”
“I explained the concept to them. It took a few tries-“
“Aran, how long have I been sleeping?”
“A surprisingly long time. How’s your head?”
She reached out gingerly with her power. “Better than it’s been in a long time,” she admitted. “I can feel the edges of the town. Three other people, two other cats, our horses, you, a probably-quickly-declining number of rats and mice.”
“Very quickly. They’ve brought you a few. I had to explain that you didn’t eat mice.”
“How’d you manage that with the fact that they’ve seen me eat rat?”
“Carefully.” He set the tray down, nudging out little feet so it became a sort of lap table. “So I had to make do but there’s some good stuff still in storage here and there. These prewar people had some pretty good storage.”
“Yeah, the best stuff is the old rich people houses,” she agreed. Looking around the bedroom she was in, she had to guess that she was probably in an old rich person house. “I don’t have to – uh. Piss.”
“Yeah, well, that’s mostly water and I can Work water pretty well. So you’ll probably want to drink a lot of water for a couple days, if anything I know about biology is close to right, but you didn’t have to worry about pissing the bed.”
He had looked out the window during that whole speech and Nikol couldn’t blame him. “Aran, how long did I sleep?”
The cat sitting next to her – Long-tail – meowed at her pointedly. She looked at the food on the plate, picked up a piece of meat – best not to ask, she knew that already – and offered it to Long-tail, who took it as an offering and devoured it happily.
“He’s telling you to shut up and eat,” Aran offered quietly.
“Yeah, I got that. Or shut up and let him eat. But I can eat and ask questions.” She scooped some of the porridge-like sugar up and tasted it. “Not bad.” It was sweet, a little thin, but it tasted a lot better than much of what they’d eaten since they went on the run.
“Thanks.” He shifted and ducked his head. “I wanted you to uh. To wake up to something nice.”
“Aran. How long have I been sleeping?”
Long-tail meowed again; she gave the cat another piece of the meat. “The cat knows what I’m asking, doesn’t he?”
“He’s really smart. I mean, the thing is, he’s smart but he’s, uh. He’s smarter than a cat and I’ve been talking to him a lot in the last couple –“
He cut himself off and looked back out the window.