Chapter 2

“So, what are we going to do about Mab?” I wondered over breakfast.  “It seems like a really bad idea to just walk on in there after the other day…”  “It’s fine.” Ælley assured me with certainty.  “Though we will have to find you something to wear.  You can’t just show up at a formal court function in the stuff you usually wear around.”  “It hasn’t maybe crossed your mind that if we show up she may have us killed?” I grumbled a little tersely as I reached across the table for a piece of orange.  “Manners, little one.” Ælley  chided “We ask people to pass things we can’t reach, not grab them across the table.”  “Sorrys.” I sighed.  “Though my point remains about the potential for grisly death.”  “I told you, it’s fine.” She explained again, to my slight annoyance much more slowly and a bit louder, as one habitually does when speaking to the not so bright.  “You accepted an invitation into the Winter Court.  They won’t bother their own; it’s like the rules in the town, it’s just not done.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” I sulked “But I’m not happy with the situation.”  “You’ll see…” Ælley assured me before allowing the subject to change.  “On the bright side” she grinned “We have to find you something presentable to wear, so we get to play dress-up!”  “Well, I’m sure that’s a bright side for one of us.” I sighed “But I’m not sure I’d rather not just wear something that is already happily residing in my closet…seems like a lot less trouble that way.”  “No getting to play dress-up, no eating customers…sometimes you can be a real downer, you know that?” Ælley joked.


After breakfast Ælley insisted on going through my closet and setting out ‘something halfway appropriate’.  Mostly, it turned out, that involved me sitting cross-legged on the bed and watching her systematically throw the entire contents of my closet into a huge ‘No’ pile in the middle of my floor.  After maybe two hours of this, she finally threw up her paws in disgust.  “I give up!  Is this really everything you own?”  “Well, aside from a couple of those footed sleepers, yes.” I sighed.  Ælley gave me a playfully evil look, before just shrugging her shoulders.  “It would be too cold for that anyway.  We’ll just have to make do with what you have, it’s not like we have enough time to go shopping now anyway…”

“Wait, when is this thing?” I wondered, feeling like I was missing something important.  “When is it?” Ælley repeated, giving me the sort of look one reserves for the terminally daft and hopelessly slow. (The looks seem to be going downhill this morning…)  “Don’t give me that look!” I griped defensively “We use the Gregorian calendar here.  Greenwich mean time plus six adjusted for daylight savings.  On a twenty-four hour day.  So there!”  “Aww…My poor, defensive little boy…” Ælley grinned, horribly amused by my outburst.  I know she tried, but it wasn’t long before she was overcome and couldn’t hold in her fit of giggles, collapsing on to the bed next to me.  “That’s it.  I’m buying you a watch…”

“If we are going out anyway we could at least get you a fancier shirt.” Ælley hinted, magically causing my car keys to jingle from their hook on the wall.  “Alternately, we could get some body armor and a rocket launcher.” I grumbled moodily.  I did however relent, grabbing the car keys and leading Ælley out the door after dumping the breakfast dishes in the sink.

“You don’t think Mir would want to come along, do you?” I wondered as we were getting ready to pull out of the driveway.  “I checked on it before we left…” Ælley shrugged “Sleeping seems to be a bigger priority at the moment, apparently it was up all night exploring the house.”  “Ah.” I nodded.  Rooting through my stuff was beginning to be a sport for the Fae at this point…

The mall turned out to be pretty empty, which went a long way towards reducing the number of people who were giving me odd looks for aimlessly wandering around talking to apparently empty air.  To make up for that minor bit of luck Ælley failed to find anything that met her approval in the first six department stores and twenty-three boutiques we visited and was getting a truly foul temper worked up when we stumbled upon the badly faked wrought iron castle doors of a shop serving a far more gothic clientele than the mall on average.  “Here we go!” Ælley grinned, perking up immensely at the display of antiquely-styled dresses in the front window.

Inside, the obviously bored guy at the register gave us (me) only the briefest of glances before returning to what I recognized from work as one of a whole slew of bad, completely interchangeable vampire romance novels which had hit the marked in the last few years.  Ælley, meanwhile, was flitting around the store, trying to look at everything at once.  “This is perfect!” she grinned happily “I was starting to think we were going to have to cross over to find anything…”  “Umm…I really don’t see myself wearing any of these.” I hinted less than subtly while picking at the collar of a shirt that could only be described as ‘frilly’.  “Oh nonsense.” Ælley chided “You would look really good in some of these!”  “I thought we had settled on my good jeans…”  “You’re not talking me out of it so you may as well quit trying.” Ælley disagreed firmly “Now let’s go try some things on.”

Quite a lot of time, and many, many outfits later Ælley and I emerged back into the mall proper with a sort-of ruffly dark blue shirt and a pair of black pants that could be best described as ‘shiny’.  “What are you looking so glum about?” Ælley asked cheerfully, giving me a hug.  “Mostly because I just spent a truly disturbing amount of money on this stuff…” I sighed, bumping my invisible companion with the bag of clothes.  “Oh hush.” She cajoled “You look good in those.”  “Says you.” I argued good-naturedly.  “The clerk in there thought so too.” She teased “He nearly walked into a post checking you out.”  “Probably wondering what I was doing in there in the first place…now let’s go get you that watch!”

“We really don’t need to get me a watch.” Ælley informed me as I drug her back into one of the department stores I had noticed a few things in when we had passed through earlier.  “We really didn’t need a poofy blue shirt either, but the fact remains…” I agreed.

I got her a watch.  And to my great amusement her complaining lasted right up until she put it on.  Then, after seeing how it looked she adopted a very ferret-esque ‘ohh…shiny!’ sort of look, and declared that “Since you insist I guess I could keep it…but only to humor you.”  “See that you do.” I nodded seriously.  I couldn’t help but grin a bit as we started back to the parking lot: about every three or four minutes Ælley would glance at the silver filigree band encircling her wrist.  My present, it would seem, was a great hit.

“It looks good on you.” I commented cheerfully the thirtieth time she checked the time.  “You think?” she blushed, looking at me hopefully.  “I think.” I confirmed, giving her a hug.  Getting settled back in to the car, I wondered if “It will be cold enough to need a coat?  I’d love an excuse to wear the cape…”  “Now you’re getting in to the spirit of things!” Ælley nodded “And yes, the Winter Court will be cold enough for you to wear whatever you would like.”  “That’s good to know.” I mused, staring off into space contemplatively before shaking myself back to the here and now.  “Why don’t we grab something to eat, then I’ve got to pick up a part for something in the garage on the way back to the house, then we’ll pretty much be ready to get ready and go.”


Ælley was quite enthusiastically involved with her chicken sandwich (after having assured herself there was in fact chicken under the breading) so I left her in the car while I ran in to grab my box.  It eliminated a few probably awkward questions, so that turned out well.  It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Ælley, I trusted her just fine, it was Mab who I didn’t trust.  It tends to happen that way when someone tries to kill me.

I found Ælley back in the car having finished her sandwich and eyeballing mine.  “Help yourself.” I sighed as I pulled back onto the road “Judging by how much of it you’re wearing you like them more than I do anyway…”  Giving me an immensely pleased look, Ælley dived right into my lunch, bypassing the fries and going straight to the other sandwich before devouring it in a manner that managed to be both ravenous and dainty at the same time.  By the time we made it back into the driveway only a crumpled-up bag bore evidence that once there had been food.  “They didn’t have spicy breading before I was trapped.” She explained, finally feeling a little self-conscious about it.  “From that wonton display of primal gluttony, I would guess not…” I teased.  “Oh stop it you…” she laughed back.

 After wrangling in the various piles of stuff from the car Ælley informed me that “You may be all set, but I’ve still got to figure out what to wear.”  “There’s always my good pair of jeans.” I offered with fake seriousness “I’m apparently not going to be wearing them.”  “Not helpful.” She sighed, disappearing towards the bedroom “Can you at least keep yourself out of trouble while I sort this out?”  “A reasonable request.” I agreed, taking my box and settling down in the shop for a while.

It didn’t take me long to notice that Mir was very unhappily pacing around the chrome of a box wrench.  I guess it wanted to be included in things, but the garage was not exactly elemental-accessible.  “All right, all right! Just hold on a minute!” I appeased, rummaging through a pile of boxes I had inherited from a great great someone or another and never bothered to unpack.  After three or four misses I dig out an old silver serving tray, which after a few minutes of polishing and a good coat of car wax seemed to satisfy Mir.  “There, see?  All better!” I declared, leaning the tray up against the wall behind the workbench.  Shrugging a little, I had to admit that the reflection did do a good job of getting light into the corner.  And, Mir looked pleased with it.

Settling down at the bench myself, I began absentmindedly digging the stuff out of the box and prepping the insurance policy I’d picked up that morning.  Despite all of Ælley’s assurances, I wasn’t feeling good about the situation.  Call it trust issues, but maxing out a credit card seems like a pretty good trade off for stacking the deck a little bit.  “Besides” I snickered “if we don’t come back from this I won’t have to pay down the card at the end of the month, right Mir?”  Mir just yawned and curled up into a sparkly little ball on top of a pile of rags, well beyond such partly mortal concerns.


I’d pretty much gotten everything squared away when Ælley dropped in, dressed in some significantly fancier Renaissance fair-esque garb than was her usual habit.  A dark blue, and thoroughly ruffled almost hoop-skirt sized affair with a matching ribbon in both her headfur and on her tail served as a stark contrast to her watch and a small but tasteful collection of silver baubles and bangles scattered throughout.  “I didn’t know you had pierced ears…” I commented, looking her over appreciatively.  “The fur tends to cover them up.” She shrugged, obviously blushing even through her fur.  “It’s good to see you’ve been getting dressed…”  “I try.” I nodded, grabbing my box as she shooed me out of the shop and towards the bedroom.  “Okay, okay!  I’m going!”

“Being late is bad form.” She lectured as I stripped off my clothes and started pulling on my new pants.  “You want to make a good impression, don’t you?”  “Yes mamma.” I sighed in a theatrically long-suffering manner as I pulled my boots back on and started in on my shirt.  The ruffles proved a little problematic, as they seemed to be intentionally hiding the numerous, excessively tiny button holes.  Sighing, Ælley stepped over to assist about the same time I was giving up and toying with just tossing it in the hamper and getting something else.  “Really.” She sighed, rolling her eyes as she finished it up for me.  “Okay, now I just need to pick out a sidearm.”  “No sidearms.”  “But…”  “No sidearms.” Ælley repeated more seriously.  “Fine.” I sulked as she draped my cape across my shoulders and fastened the clasp.  “There!  Perfect.” She declared “And I think we’re ready to go!”  “Just let me hit the bathroom really quick and I’m good.”  “I’ll meet you in the living room then.” Ælley nodded, grabbing my paci-on-a-ribbon on her way out.  Snagging the box she had not thought to ask about, I slipped into the bathroom, musing that with as large as the cape was I probably could have gone with the rocket launcher idea…

“Here.” Ælley explained, draping my paci around my neck. “You tend to fidget when you’re nervous, that will give you something to distract you a bit.”  “No I don’t.” I disagreed.  Ælley just laughed “You should have seen yourself the other day when you were talking to the repair guy at work.  I don’t know how you got away with that.”  “Yeah, about that…next time you blow something up try to give me a little more to work with.  Thankfully it being in the women’s bathroom did present a level of plausible deniability.” I grinned back.  “I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m attacked by bathroom fixtures.” She agreed seriously, taking my hand.  “Now close your eyes.”

When I opened them again it was to find we had appeared in a forest locked in the grasp of the deepest part of winter.  Birch trees, their branches bare of all but icicles surrounded us, the foot-deep snow not even broken by the path of animals.  “You know, this place is really kind of pretty…” I decided “Though I hope you have some idea where we’re going, because I get the feeling that there aren’t an abundance of street signs around here…”  “Or, for that matter, streets.” Ælley agreed. Looking around for a moment getting her bearings, she soon headed off determinedly through the forest.  Falling in behind her, I found myself having to make a deliberate effort to lift my feet instead of slogging through the snow drifts.  Ælley, I observed, was significantly better at it than I was…

“So, how far off is it then?” I wondered.  Even had I known about the forthcoming hike I would still not have been able to dig up a pair of snowshoes around my neck of the woods, but a taller pair of boots or something still would have been nice.  “Just the other side of the next rise, and across a field.” Ælley explained “Not that far.”  “Good to hear.” I grunted, as I pulled myself out of a drift that had apparently been disguising a low spot.  “It would have been bad manners to just drop right in.” she reminded me “And also this way we have time for the ‘good behavior talk’.”  “We couldn’t have just done it before we left?” I whined, starting to sound just a little bit bratty.

Ignoring me completely, Ælley just launched into her lecture.  “Now I expect you to be on your best behavior, understand? Be polite.  No picking fights, don’t wipe your fingers on the tablecloth, and try not to complain about anything that isn’t strictly necessary.  Also, I would take it as a personal favor if you cold refrain from threatening to kill anyone.”  “Okay.” I sighed, drawing the word out ten times longer than it needed to be, doing my best to point out the complete unreasonableness of her request.  “It’s really a lot for you to ask of me, and I anticipate it being a trying and stressful ordeal, but since you insist on being…” My sentence was cut short as Ælley reached across and popped my paci in my mouth.  “Less talkie, more walkie.” She requested politely, taking my hand and pulling me up the last little bit of hill.

Spread out below us was a huge lake, flat and shimmering, frozen completely solid, and sprouting up in the middle of it all was what could only be our destination: an imposing fortress the color of frosted glass.  Leading from the edge of the lake to the gates of the mighty edifice was a procession-way lined with old lamp posts the same color as the castle.  “Now that is impressive.” I decided, a little bit awed.  “Yes it is.” Ælley agreed as we approached the beginning of the path “And that, by the way, is who you picked a fight with yesterday.”

“You are not filling me with warm and fuzzy thoughts.” I sighed, experimentally poking at the pathway with the toe of my boot from the safety of solid ground.  It seemed solid enough, and the stone grey ice of the walkway was textured to actually provide excellent traction. “I already told you it would be okay.” Ælley reminded me patiently, then added as an afterthought “Just don’t step off the pathway…”  Musing about that, I looked over the surrounding ice a bit more carefully.  The first thing I noticed was that the sea-green ice wasn’t actually flat, but made up of lots of little hills and valleys, the random edges of which had an odd sparkly tiger-stripe pattern to them.  “Some of those spots are sharp, aren’t they?”  “Razor.” Ælley nodded “But the really dangerous parts are the veins of darker ice…They’re only maybe a quarter inch thick, and under them is water.  And in the water…well, just stay out of the water.”  “It’s all one enormous moat.” I realized.

“We could turn around right now and head back home…” I suggested “I could pick up another couple of those chicken sandwiches you liked, maybe watch a movie or something; have a nice night in.”  “We could,” Ælley agreed cheerfully “but since we’re already all the way up to the door we might as well drop in and say hello.”  Damn.  Note to self: try to walk slower when trying to talk my way out of things…  Knocking confidently on the enormous, iron banded door, we were met by two of the same sort of heavily armored guards Ælley and I had run into with Mab the other day.  “You are expected.  Please follow me.” One of the pair requested, leading us down a long an ornately decorated hallway and through a second set of massive, but much more highly decorated, doors into what was obviously a throne room.

Looking around the huge mass of well dressed beings filling the room, I quickly decided that first, the town we had visited had nothing on this place, and second, I should have brought a lot more ammo.  Aside from the fact that they were all nicely dressed there didn’t seem to be any real rhyme or reason about the crowd of socializing beings: they seemed to represent the full spectrum of size, shape and legend.  “Well, come on then.” Ælley laughed, pulling me towards the raised dais where Mab was seated on an ornately carved chair, apparently receiving representatives of various groups in her realm.  “She looks pretty busy.” I observed hopefully “Maybe we should drop by again later, catch her at a better time…”  “Nope, it’s a little late for that now.” Ælley disagreed, pointing out that Mab had noticed our arrival and was waving us over to her throne.

“There you two are!” Mab nodded, indicating for us to take a seat next to her throne.  She seemed to be genuinely pleased to see us, which threw me more than a little bit off balance.  “Give me a minute to finish up with this, then we’ll get to you.”  Shooting Ælley a sidelong glance as Mab returned to her original discussion, I was mildly annoyed to see how much my obvious nervousness seemed to amuse her.  “Just try to settle down a little, you’re going to make yourself ill at this rate.”  I was opening my mouth to argue when I found myself shushed again with my paci.  “This will help a little.” She told me informatively as she took my hand.  I really wanted to disagree with her, just because I was at a point where I was feeling nervous and irritable and just downright contrary about all and sundry, but unfortunately it turned out that she was right, and by the time Mab had finished up whatever business had been at hand when we had arrived I was feeling quite a bit better.

Standing regally, Mab gestured for silence from the crowd, before announcing in a tone that seemed to reverberate into the very bedrock “Be it known that these two before you are members of my court and under its protection.”  Upon her finishing speaking there was a collective nod from the assembled crowd, and conversation soon returned to normal.  “Well, that seems rather anticlimactic.” I sighed, a little relieved.  “Maybe to you…” Ælley grumbled.  Looking over, I did a double take.  Her fur was all frizzed up as if she had been in a cartoon, sticking a fork in a toaster.  “Not everyone is magically hard of hearing.”  “Umm…”  “I’ll explain later, now isn’t a good time.” She growled, fastidiously trying to get her fur combed back down.  “I had something like that happen last time I was working on the A/C…” I nodded sympathetically.  “I didn’t mean to snap.” She sighed “It’s just kind of one of those things.”

My tummy took that moment to be the perfect time to make itself known.  “It would seem it is time for a meal.” Mab observed, raising an eyebrow in my direction before adding as an aside to Ælley that “You need to be sure to feed him very regularly, humans are surprisingly intolerant of nutritional irregularities.”  “We ate before we left.” I explained “But I guess it has been a while at this point…”  “Food then.” Mab nodded decisively, leading us through a pair of doors at the other side of the reception hall and into a massive dining room on the same scale as the reception hall.  The middle of the room was dominated by an enormously long table, flanked by several hundred chairs and illuminated by two dozen chandeliers hanging from the four-story ceiling.

Leading us down to the far end of the table, Mab pointed out it would cut down on the noise from the other room.  It was quite the hike, but we did eventually find ourselves settling in at the end of the table.  Much like some of the more aggravating restaurants I had been to, Mab’s dining hall did not have a menu, but rather the wait-staff began bringing food right after we had settled down at the table.  Short order cooks they were not.  Nor, apparently, did the cook intend for anyone to go hungry.  As the enormous variety of tiny servings piled up, I was struck by the thought that you don’t really need a menu if you just serve up some of everything.

I wasn’t sure what the protocol for eating with Fae royalty was, but since Ælley was digging in I assumed that I would be okay eating something as well.  It seemed like a good idea to err on the side of caution, so I decided to try some of a cheese and smoked meat tray.  To my vast amusement I discovered that among other oddities my tableware included a fork with about a four foot handle.  That was just too fun for words, and I very quickly had been reduced to pushing around food on the far end of the table, plans to actually eat any of it lost for the moment.

“Ahem.” Ælley cleared her throat while looking at me severely over the top of her wine glass.  “Do you recall our manners discussion earlier?”  She reminded me in a way that made it quite clear it wasn’t actually a question.  “Oh.” I realized dejectedly, the pastry I had just speared plopping to the table unceremoniously.  If I had Ælley’s ears I’m pretty sure they would be drooping.  “Oh let him.” Mab shrugged “I tend to allow for a bit of mannerly leniency in beings who have the nerve or lack the sense not to pick a fight with me in the middle of a declared neutral zone...besides, I’ve seen your house, remember?”  “Uhh…” I blushed, considering all the potential ramifications of that comment…  Ælley didn’t seem particularly put out by it, so I just did my best to pass it off and not rupture anything from blushing too hard.  There was, apparently, quite a lot of ‘cultural differences’ that I was going to have to figure out here somewhere along the line…

“You may consider removing the cape however, so that you don’t end up wearing your meal.”  Mab suggested.  “It covers up the weapon.” I commented without any thought.  “Nick!” Ælley grumbled “We talked about that before we left too!”  “And again” Mab laughed, obviously genuinely amused “It’s quite all right.”  Since Mab didn’t care and I was going to get a talking-to from Ælley at this point regardless I went ahead and draped my cape over the back of the next chair down.  “That’s a rather an inelegant looking thing.” Mab observed “You were doing so well with the clothes and the cape and everything, it’s really a bit of a disappointment.”  It took me a minute to figure out that Mab was joking.  With the Winter Queen it was disturbingly hard to tell…  “There, he got it.” Ælley observed.  “I was beginning to wonder.” Mab nodded seriously.  “I’m truly sorry to disappoint.” I explained “But frankly I was working under the assumption I would end up having to shoot my way out of here, and the Micro is about the most death you can fit into the smallest package.  Completely uncontrollable, and the +P+ rounds will burn out the barrel after a couple of clips, but in a crowd…messy.”  Ælley at this point was rubbing her eyes in frustration.  “If it makes you feel any better it was incredibly expensive.” I offered hopefully.

“Eventually you should learn how to stop when you are ahead.” Mab suggested, observing Ælley idly “It would appear you’ve caused a certain amount of…aggravation.”  “I had good intentions…”  “And a complete incapability of listening!” Ælley interrupted a bit tersely.  “I have determined over a very great amount of time that such is a defining characteristic of males.” Mab explained to Ælley, talking over my head.  “One simply has to learn to work within that limitation.”  “Wise advice.” Ælley nodded, ignoring my subtle attempts to get her attention.  “I will compensate him for the expenses he has accrued.” Mab decided “I feel somewhat remiss in not clarifying everything before he armed himself for war.  Certain allowances, after all, must be made by a proper host, and cultural misunderstandings would probably qualify as such.”  Waving a hand, Mab beckoned forward one of the waiters, who stepped up and placed a covered tray in front of me.  Casually removing the silver dome, he revealed a small pile of faceted blue stones about the size of tennis balls.  Holding one up to the light, I looked it over for a minute before sighing and returning it to the tray.

“As grateful as I am for the thought, aside from being nifty little sparklys to play with they wouldn’t do me any good anyway.”  Scoffing, Mab informed me that “While it has been some time since I have traveled the world of Man, things there shall never change so much that gems would become worthless for barter.”  “That’s the thing.” I explained, taking up the most adult tone I had used since our arrival as I hefted one of the stones in my hand.  “This is what?  A hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty karat weight flawless sapphire.  No inclusions.  No color variance…there isn’t a jeweler in the world who would believe that these weren’t spun in a lab.”  With a positively baffled look Mab shrugged and motioned for the server to remove the tray again.  “Can I keep one anyway?” I asked hopefully “It would make a pretty little thing to keep on my desk…”  “If you like.” She nodded.

Selecting one that was more or less egg shaped, I handed over the rest of the tray.  “Shiny!” I grinned, setting it carefully on the table.  “Technically sparkly.” Ælley corrected seriously.  “The nice thing is that it does make him easy to shop for…”  “I imagine it would.” Mab agreed before turning the conversation elsewhere.  I really wasn’t paying attention any more at that point.  I suppose I may have eaten too much, or maybe it was the cold weather doing it, but I found myself starting to nod off to sleep at the table.  “…suppose you two won’t be staying for dinner then…” a voice was saying as I jerked back awake.  “No, we had better not.” Ælley decided “It looks like my little guy has had about enough for one day.”

“M’ fine, really.” I argued halfheartedly “We don’t need to leave on my account.”  Ælley and Mab both just ignored me, Ælley popping my paci in my mouth when I continued to protest.  “You can just leave from here.” Mab was telling Ælley “There isn’t any need to hike all the way back out to the crossroads, and it’s starting to snow again anyway…”  After the usual rounds of parting pleasantries Ælley was taking my hand again and we soon found ourselves back in my living room.  “That is a truly superior way to travel.” I decided as I shrugged out of my cape, now quite unnecessarily hot, and began setting hardware, hats, jewelry and an enormous but functionally worthless sapphire down on the end table.  “We should have some ice cream to celebrate not being dead, then I kind of want a nap!”  “Ice cream?  That sounds intriguing…” Ælley decided as she ducked into the bedroom to change into something less attention-diverting.  “I keep forgetting I can’t assume familiarity.” I nodded “You’re going to love this one though…  As soon as I change into something less renaissance-paramilitary-assault-team we’re going to the grocery store!”  “I thought you wanted a nap?”  Ælley reminded me as I was rapidly pulling on clothes that wouldn’t make me a candidate for the loony bin.  “Ice cream.” I argued convincingly, grabbing her paw in one hand and my keys in the other.

A half-hour or so later found us sitting around the kitchen table with quite a number of pint containers of ice cream and a pair of spoons, well on our way to becoming fantastically ill.  After her initial case of horrible brain-freeze (she didn’t listen to my admonishment about eating too quickly) Ælley had added ice cream to her growing list of ‘marvels of the modern age’.  “I’m probably going to regret eating so much.” She sighed in contentment.  “We could always put the rest in the freezer for later.” I suggested, reaching over to start rounding up the leftovers.  “Touch it and I’ll put you in time out!” Ælley joked possessively before helping me load everything into the deep freezer.  “It will probably take a while to finish all that…” she mused “Next time we shouldn’t buy one of each kind.”  “Okay, agreed that I splurged a bit.” I yawned.  “But?” Ælley asked, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  “No but.” I shrugged “’But’ would assume that I cared.”

“So; bath, quiet time, and then off to bed.” Ælley decided “It’s been a long day…” “It’s still better than going in to work…” I shrugged as I kicked off my boots and began tossing things into the dirty clothes hamper.  “Oh come off it, your job isn’t as bad as all that.” Ælley argued.  “I’ve been there, remember?”  “Going to drag you in there some Saturday morning and see how long it takes you to get fed up and throw someone through a window.” I offered cheerfully, deciding I really didn’t feel like going through the time of running a bath.  Skipping right to the ‘flopping down somewhere soft and cozy’ part really held a great deal more appeal at the moment.

“Did you want the shower first?” I offered, noticing Ælley had followed me in to the bathroom, devoid of launderables as well.  Rolling her eyes she just shooed me in, following close on my heels.  “See…” she explained logically “There’s plenty of room in here…”  “Fair enough.” I sighed.  She was taking more than a little getting used to.  On a much more practical note, fur is much easier to get washed up when you have help with those hard to reach (and more importantly rinse) spots, and this way we didn’t run out of hot water.  “And” I explained, trying to embarrass her back after quite a lot of her unabashed staring “this way I can make sure the plumbing stays in one piece!”

“Indoor plumbing is a privilege, not a right.” Ælley explained firmly, beginning a full-fledged lecture before being cut short when I flipped on the hairdryer.  “These things are surprisingly effective…” I mused “I wonder if I could get a battery powered one.  That could be a useful thing to carry around with me.”  “No fair taking advantage of the dryer.” She murred rather half-heartedly.  “I make no promises.” I warned as I finished up her (extremely puffy at this point) tail.  “On the other paw, without it everything would smell like a wet canine…” Ælley pointed out “So let’s consider it a definite plus, hmm?”

“You know” I yawned as I stuffed the hairdryer back in its drawer under the counter “I’m not sure I particularly feel like doing much of anything right now…”  “Well we can always just curl up and read some.” Ælley suggested “Non-activity can be a good activity.  And don’t point out the logical fallacy in there either!”  “Just this once.” I agreed, flopping down on the bed and trying to take up as much space as possible without seeming like I was doing it on purpose.  “Up, you.” Ælley ordered seriously, waving the diaper bag at me cheerfully.  “Kay.” I nodded, rolling over and scooching my rear up so she could slide the diaper under me.  “Aww… Ælley groaned, shifting her attention to where she was digging through the bag “The tube of diaper cream got squished…it got all over pretty much everything in here!”  “Well, I guess I’m teaching you how to use the washing machine tomorrow.” I laughed as she dug through my box of stuff for a new tube.  “There’s a machine for that too?” Ælley beamed, her mood improving instantly.  “Yeppers!” I nodded “That there is!”  “You never cease to amaze me.” She smiled, patting me on the head affectionately.  “In all honesty, I didn’t actually invent the thing.” I joked with mock seriousness.  “I assumed that, yes.” Ælley agreed, waving her newly-discovered tube of diaper cream.

Returning to the task at hand, Ælley spent a frustrated minute or two peeling off the safety seal on the top of the tube, eventually resorting to a neatly trimmed and manicured set of retractable claws that I had managed to have not noticed to date before she finally got the tube open.  “Not…user…friendly!” she grumbled, flicking the crumpled-up pieces of seal at the trash can disdainfully.  To my great relief, the claws were not in evidence when she began applying the cream to my neither regions.  “Don’t worry.” She laughed, realizing the source of my concerned look “No pointy things down there little one.”  “Wasn’t worried.” I claimed, shaking my head vigorously, though all in all probably not that convincingly.  “Whatever you say, dear.” Ælley placated as she folded up the front and fastened the diaper’s tapes.

“All done!” she nodded cheerfully.  I guess it was because I was the one who had been stressing out over our perceived immanent horrible death, but Ælley seemed to be quite a bit less tired than I was.  Giving a mental shrug I wandered over to the bookcases along the wall, knowing full well there was nothing even vaguely resembling light reading there… I was beginning to think it would end as a toss-up between a history of the post-war occupation of Germany (which really knocked a lot of the smug out of the Allied nations’ holier-than-thou stance on the war) and the complete Guide (which Ælley, poor dear, would be unfamiliar with) when I stumbled across my old copy of Grimm’s Fairytales.  Pulling it from the shelf, I flopped back down on the bed next to Ælley, who was leafing through a leather bound tome which clearly hadn’t come from my collection of aging and beat up paperbacks.

“What’d you find?” she wondered, looking over the top of her book.  “Political science.” I nodded sardonically “You?”  “Trade you for a minute…” she grinned, handing me her book.  The gilt lettering on the cover was in an alphabet I didn’t recognize, let alone the language, so I was more than a little confused just what it was she expected me to be getting…right up until I opened it up to a page at random and found illustrations detailing how one would go about diapering a centaur. It was a Fae parenting manual!  “Everyone has to learn somewhere.” Ælley nodded.  “Mab sent it over for us…she’s actually got quite the sense of humor…”  “I see.” I nodded as I continued to flip through the heavily illustrated and exhaustively thorough tome.  “You know,” I mused “I guess I never took into consideration the potential logistics involved…there must be forty or fifty pages on just folding diapers for all the different sizes and shapes of beings out there…”  “Yes, it’s educational reading.” Ælley grinned playfully “I’ll have to translate it for you when it’s not so close to bedtime.  Though that would ruin some of the surprise!”  “You are quite pleased with yourself, aren’t you?” I agreed rhetorically, handing her back the book in spite of her ‘cat-ate-the-canary’ smile.

“Oh hey.” I remembered “I don’t think I’ve seen Mir this evening.  Any idea where it disappeared to?”  “Moving in to your sapphire.” Ælley explained, tousling my hair.  “A  big faceted stone like that makes a really good playground it would seem…”  “Magical dog house.” I nodded.  “Of a sort.”  Grinning to myself, I had a mental picture of taking Mir to the pet store to socialize, like people do with their dogs…that would inevitably create some fascinating chaos.  Which brought up another semi-random thought:  “Can other people see Mir, or is it like you—only when it wants them to?”  “I don’t know, but I would assume so.” Ælley shrugged “Though I would tend to think that even if one of your kind did happen to get a glimpse of it in the mirror they would just assume it to be a figment of their imagination.  Sentient beings as a whole are usually pretty good at ignoring things they can’t understand…one is far less likely to go mad that way.”  “That’s a cheerful prospect.  You always seem to be full of such good news!” I laughed.  “I’m also infinitely patient and understanding.” Ælley grinned back “Never underestimate how lucky you really are!”  “I don’t.” I explained, scooching around to give her a hug “With the way my luck usually goes, I’ll never figure out why, but maybe that just makes it all that much easier to appreciate…”

“Aww…” Ælley smiled, tiredly “I love you too, little guy.  Now if we could just get Mir in here for a group cuddle…”  “I share your sentiment, though since I’m pretty sure it’s the living personification of broken glass I’m not sure how that would work out, practically speaking.”  “It’s the thought that counts.” She chided.  “That’s true enough.  I always have gotten a feline kind of ‘no touchy’ vibe from it anyway.” I yawned, setting aside my book.  (I was losing the optimistic notion of staying awake too terribly much longer…)  “It can be good to ask first sometimes.” She confirmed seriously.

Taking a hint from my having given up on doing any more reading, Ælley set aside her book as well, first putting in a sticky-note to mark her place.  “I think I could get spoiled by these pretty quickly.” She observed, pointing out to me the non-trivial number of them protruding from the book like the colorful feathers of a peacock.  “I’m not quite sure if that’s good news or bad news.” I mused as she set the book aside and flicked off the bedside lamp.  “Well you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out…I was thinking that we could have a picnic and do some sightseeing across in the Fey.  You seem like you could use a relaxing little excursion, it’s been a stressful couple of days for you, hasn’t it?”  “That sounds nice.” I nodded in the dark.  With that decided, Ælley and I drifted off into a sleepy little silence, and were both soon fast asleep.  Picnics are all well and good, but they can be a bit difficult to enjoy if one is too tired to go… 

To Be Continued...