Careles and the Cat
Word Count: 6,312
Spoilers: References something from 1x11, but goes AU in the middle of 1x06. Based off of the end of We Have a Situation.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I just break things.
Summary: Nico doesn't have pets. For a reason.
Author's Note: So, in writing the end of We Have a Situation, I found this idea absolutely hilarious and wanted to do it. But it was not something that belonged in that story, since it's... crackfic at its best. So, instead, I ended Situation and moved on to other things, completing this as well.
Careles and the Cat
"What is this?"
"Bagheera, Nico. This is your new friend," Gabriella said, smiling. She put a hand down in front of the crate and something hissed, snapping at her fingers. Nico watched her jump and shook his head. She had chosen a dangerous animal and brought him here without even thinking about the consequences. She knew better, but she tended not to think.
"Fine. Leave the cat with me and go."
"Are you afraid of me interacting with your new girlfriend?" she asked, smiling. "Don't worry. Marry her. Let me give you both a big gift for the wedding. Oh, and set up college funds for her children while you're at it."
"This isn't about you spending as much of Marshall's money as you can before you leave him, is it?" Nico began, frowning. He swore his sister was actually sober, which should be a good thing, but given her behavior, it concerned him greatly. "Gabriella, I told you before, I don't want your money. I don't want his. I don't need gifts. If you want to do something for me—though I don't want it for me or even for Juliette—get yourself sober and stay that way."
"Oh, there she is. I'll just say hello now that I'm not drunk," his sister said, shooting him a dark look as she went over to talk to Danielle.
Nico looked down at the crate. "I think I'd let you go after her, only it's not fair to you."
The crate rumbled a little, and he frowned as he swore that the animal was... purring. He should find a place to let the cat out for food and water, to stretch its legs and relieve itself. The stables would have to work for that. The cat could bolt in the field or paddock, and if it decided to hunt, it would hunt the wild horses. "What are you, anyway? Leopard? Tiger? Cougar?"
He'd have to look up what the cat needed as far as care and get the necessary amount of food. "Here. This isn't what you need, but it will have to be sufficient for now."
He opened the doors to the stable and then to the crate. The cat came out slowly. He took in the dark coat and figured that Danielle would be pleased. She had so wanted it to be a black one. They'd call this one a black panther, though technically it was a melanistic leopard. "I suppose the vet should look at you, too."
The leopard looked at him. Nico looked back at the stable. "I can't say I blame you, but you don't want to go back inside that crate, do you?"
The cat turned its head, walked up to him and started licking his fingers. It had to be hungry. "I don't recommend eating me. If you wait, I will make sure you get food."
Another purr. Nico frowned again. The cat just sat there. He couldn't leave it out. It was a danger to the horses and possibly Danielle and his sister. He looked at the house and took out his phone, dialing the number. "Doctor. I have another patient for you. You'll need to do some research, though. I doubt you have much experience with leopards, do you?"
"Is this a joke, Mr. Careles?"
"No. Unfortunately not," Nico said, frowning again as the cat got up and started to circle his legs, still purring. "I would appreciate it if you hurried."
He hung up and put the phone away, looking down at the cat. "If you attempt to eat me, I will do my best to snap your neck. I'm not really sure which one of us would come out of the fight alive, but I am prepared to take my chances."
The leopard opened its mouth, yawning. It gave his legs another pass and sat down on his feet. On them. A hundred pound cat. He wasn't going anywhere. He took out his phone again and pushed the button.
"Nico? Why are you calling me? You're just out in the yard, right?"
"Gabriella told you about her present, didn't she?"
"It's black. Suits you."
"Right now it is on my feet. Tell my sister that she had better go find the nearest butcher and pick up something for this thing to eat so that it does not turn on the horses she wanted to rescue."
"The cat has a name. You can call her by her name."
"Bagheera was a male leopard," Nico said, looking down at the cat at his feet. It had started to purr louder. The leopard was part of the panther family. It was not supposed to purr. His sister had at least purchased it from someone who trained it to be partially domestic, though that was not good for the cat itself. Herself. "In the original book, at least."
"But not always in every incarnation," Danielle agreed. He heard the door and looked over, spotting her in the distance. "You going to be okay with her on your feet?"
"Not forever. Tell my sister to hurry."
Dani laughed, and Nico's eyes went to her instead of trying to glare the leopard into submission. She shrugged. It amused her. She couldn't help it. The moment with the horse had been touching and sweet, but Nico's ongoing battle to keep the panther—wait, melanistic leopard, he was insistent on that—at a distance was funny. He would not agree with that, but it was. Bagheera hated being a part from Nico, and she was intelligent and crafty, always finding a way out of wherever he'd put her and finding her way back to him. Dani was starting to think that Nico's real reason for frustration was that the cat interfered with his stealth. Hard to be sneaky with a giant cat trailing after you.
"This is not funny, Danielle. This animal should never have been domesticated in the first place. She needs to be properly cared for, and that is not with me."
Dani shook her head. "Not according to her. She likes you. She wants to be with you. You're not getting rid of her."
Nico started to say something when Bagheera came up behind him and licked his hand again. He made a face. "She is disruptive. I cannot work with her around."
"But she does wonders for your image as a scary badass," Dani reminded him, thinking of how the panther had managed to corner half the team in the locker room when she was looking for Nico. Several grown men had been screaming for help, and when Nico walked in, she went to him immediately, licking his hand like she always did. She started to purr, and the men started to relax, only to have her growl at the next one that came near to her. Now they thought that Nico was an animal whisperer who could control a dangerous animal that terrified the team. "She hates anyone that's not you, remember?"
"She's fine with you."
"As long as I'm with you. She's not so friendly when you walk away."
Nico shook his head, giving the cat another death glare. Bagheera started purring. "Another reason that she can't stay. I can't have her hurting anyone close to me."
"Just tell her who is okay and who is not."
"I am not training her. I am not keeping her. She is not staying," Nico insisted. He started walking away, and the leopard followed him. Dani leaned back in the chair and giggled. He looked back at her, and she shrugged. He shook his head again as he took out his phone.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling the zoo. I'm going to give them a gift."
"You can't do that, Nico! She's not a zoo animal any more than she's a wild one. She's been raised as a pet. A very loyal one owner type of pet, and she's fixated that loyalty on you. She's not going to survive if you leave her. You'd break her heart."
"It's a cat."
"She is a very large cat, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't feel anything for you."
"I do not want to end up in a coma because she decides to break my neck."
Dani didn't think that was very likely, though she knew that no one had expected it to happen to that magician, either. She really didn't think that Bagheera was dangerous, either. She seemed devoted to Nico, didn't even seem to notice how big she was. She wasn't quite like a normal cat, but she was perfect for Nico. He just refused to see it.
"Nico, look at her. Can you really send her away?"
Nico glanced down at the panther, who was now rolling on the floor of his office, playing with a football like a smaller cat might do a ball of string. He lowered the phone. "That's the game ball from the last time the Hawks made it to the playoffs, isn't it?"
"She's a fan."
Nico shot Dani a dirty look and went over to Bagheera. "This one is not a toy. The team has plenty of old balls if you want them, but that one is mine."
Bagheera nudged the ball with her nose, sending it over to Nico. He picked it up, making a face as he did, and put it back on his shelf. "We'll go find you a toy now. Maybe then you'll stay put so I can get some work done."
Bagheera jumped up and ran out the door. Nico sighed and followed after her. "No. Bagheera, trainers are not toys! Damn it."
"How is Donnally?"
"Bruised, but she didn't actually break the skin when she bit him," Danielle reported, since Nico had been unable to see for himself. Bagheera kept trying to follow him, and even as much as he would never get along with Donnally, Nico was not cruel enough to inflict her presence on the other man again. Considering that she had probably not gone after the trainer because she saw him as a toy but rather as... an enemy. Nico did not like the man, but he hadn't wanted the trainer attacked, either.
"She has to go, Danielle. I'm finding her a place—"
"Yo, Nico," TK called loudly, barging into the room. "I thought you were only kidding about feeding people to your panther. Now I hear you tried to serve up Mattie D to him."
"Her. The leopard is female, and I didn't do it deliberately. I am sending the animal to a nature preserve as soon as I make the arrangements. She is clearly too dangerous to be around all these people. She is not staying."
"You're really going to send her away? Look at her," TK said, and Nico glanced down at the leopard, who was happily chewing on a football again, looking like a big house cat, and purring like she was completely innocent. "She's so... cute."
"So everyone keeps saying. She's not cute when she goes after people. She can kill."
TK shook his head, looking at the leopard again. Bagheera opened her mouth wide and then ripped the ball to shreds. She licked her face and went toward TK. The receiver jumped up on the desk and grabbed the nearest thing he could find to ward off the cat. "Nice kitty, nice kitty..."
Nico smiled a little. Moments like this almost made having the hundred pound would-be kitten worth it. Unfortunately, though, as cute as her loyalty was to everyone else and as amusing as he personally found her ability to intimidate people, she did not belong and could not stay. This would not work. It was not in the animal's best interests.
"Call him off, Nico. Call him off."
"It's a her, and as far as I can tell, she seems to be deaf to the words 'stop' and 'no.'"
Danielle laughed. Nico looked at her. "Maybe she's trained in a language that isn't English."
"She understands the rest of English just fine," Nico reminded them. He knew that it was possible that Bagheera had a second language. He had a few of his own, but he knew he'd never used one around the cat. He was probably going to regret this, but he still needed to know, now that the question had been raised. All he needed was one word. "Come."
Bagheera came over to him and licked his hand again. Danielle smiled. TK tried to relax. Nico frowned at the cat. "Sit."
"That's amazing, Nico. What language is that?"
Nico shook his head. He did not like this. It might have been predictable to use a language like Spanish that was so common or Italian given his last name, but he didn't know how anyone would have known that he'd picked that dialect up. It wasn't even in his official files. He'd kept it to himself for a reason. He also didn't believe in coincidences. The fact that the animal was trained using that language—it was not a coincidence. He'd ask Gabriella how long she'd planned on buying him the cat, but even she didn't know that he spoke this one.
"TK, will you make sure that Doctor Santino gets home safely?"
"You still gonna call Doctor D that? When everyone knows that you two are—"
"Stop now, or I will let her think that you you are her new football," Nico told him with a tight smile. TK glanced at the cat and nodded quickly. It was moments like this that made Nico want to second guess his decision about the leopard. He knew, though, that it was not and never would be an option to keep her. It had been useful to let the cat restore some of the damage to his reputation, but it was time to end that. Past time.
Danielle sighed, but for a change, she didn't try and fight him about leaving. "You'll stop by later? To... see Juliette?"
TK looked like he wanted to say something else, but he remembered the cat and didn't. Nico nodded as he picked up his coat. He would be at the house later.
"Come with me, Bagheera," Nico told her, speaking English this time. He knew if he walked away the cat would follow, so he didn't need to issue any commands. "We have arrangements to make."
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Nico looked at the man in front of him. He had apparently missed the memo about the change in decades, and furthermore, if he wanted to, he could not look more like a stereotype. Nico was at the end of his patience. "I have already told you that I wanted to do this. Repeatedly. I have looked into several nature preserves, and this one is the best option for this animal. I am doing this for her sake. She's already bitten one person, and people will want her shot if she gets someone else, assuming that she doesn't kill that person."
"I really think you should reconsider this."
"You are a zoologist, aren't you?" Nico asked, starting to reconsider his choice. Perhaps one of the other locations would be better than this one. "You know better. No matter how much care I can provide, she is not a pet. She is a wild animal. She needs to be in the wild. She never should have been domesticated."
"Exactly. But you're overlooking something important here," the zoologist began. He reached up and pulled on his ponytail. He lowered his voice. "Have you ever considered the possibility of... spirit guides?"
"Mystical animals that serve as guides through life and sometimes the afterlife?" Nico shook his head. This man was a nutcase. "The melanistic leopard is not a figment of my imagination. I am not the only one that has seen her. I am not the only one who can touch her. She's ruined several footballs and bitten an employee. No one doubts that she is very real."
"Oh, I know. The thing is that she may be real because you want her to be."
Nico frowned. "I don't see how I could have willed this creature into existence. In fact, I know that I didn't. My sister—a very rich and usually drunk woman—bought the cat for me. She dropped it off. I am not in any doubt about the origin of the cat or its reality. I spoke to a different doctor on the phone. I would like to speak to her again."
"She's my assistant."
"I am leaving. Bagheera?"
The leopard padded up next to him, rubbing against his legs again. The zoologist called after him. "If you're unwilling to accept your spirit guide, it could explain why she has become visible to everyone else. You have to make peace with its presence in order to make it possible for the animal and you to move on."
Nico looked back at him. "I know a very good therapist, and I think maybe you should consider calling her. You clearly have issues."
"So do you. You won't be able to dump your spirit guide. She's not going away. You have to accept her place in your life. Use her guidance and her counsel. It's why she's here."
Nico continued to walk away. The whole thing was crazy, and as odd as he thought it was that the leopard responded to Farsi, he knew that Bagheera was not a spirit guide, either. He was not going to keep her. She was not going to disappear, but she would have a new home. A place to be a leopard and not an overgrown kitten that almost acted like some kind of puppy dog.
"You'd like being a spirit guide, wouldn't you? Of course, you're more of a follower than a leader, so that doesn't seem quite right," Nico told the cat, and she looked up at him, purring. He was pretty sure that all he really had to do to get her to do that was talk to her. She liked the sound of his voice. She was a strange cat. "Besides, if I was going to get a spirit guide, it would have happened before my life was over half gone. Basic human life expectancy is eighty years, I'm over forty. I would have had a spirit guide by now if I was going to have one at all. Not that I believe in them. It's an interesting theory and native to several cultures, including a few I worked with in the past, but it is not mine. If I had a spirit guide, I'd be asking it why the hell it never attacked my father. Or my uncle."
Bagheera blinked, looking at him. He pointed a finger at her. "See. I knew you'd have no answer for that. You're clearly not a spirit guide."
The cat started running then, and Nico sighed as he was forced to chase after it. He already knew that leashes were a very bad idea, but he was tempted, again. Especially since the commands in Farsi weren't working.
"So, let me get this straight," Dani began, curled up on Nico's couch next to him. Bagheera was on the floor, chewing through another football. It was a good thing that the team bought in bulk and got discounts because that panther liked to eat them like they were candy. "This guy thinks Bagheera is your... spirit guide?"
"Obviously, I'm not going to take her to that preserve. He is a lunatic."
Dani laughed. "I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him a lunatic, but a spirit guide... Wow. That is... it's something else."
"She is going to the next preserve on my list tomorrow," Nico said. Bagheera put her head in his lap and looked up at him pathetically. "Don't even try it. You will be happy there. It's the best place for you. You're not a spirit guide, not a pet. You're a leopard who should be in the wild."
"Nico, look at her. She's so... pitiful. You can't be completely heartless—"
"I wish I was sometimes, Danielle, but this is not about that. This is an animal who needs to be free. She needs to be an animal, not... this. Not following me around, not stuck in the middle of a city where she has no place. This apartment is too small for her to be here."
"I think she fits just fine," Dani said, reaching out to pet the panther's head. Since Nico was still there, Bagheera closed her eyes and purred, though if she'd tried to do this without him, she might have lost a hand. She was careful. Everyone was. Nico was extremely paranoid about Bagheera hurting anyone.
"Here," Nico said, passing the cat another football. She bit into it happily and moved over to continue eating it. "That will distract her for a little while."
"I know what will distract you for a while," she said suggestively, and he gave her a look. She shrugged. They were alone—other than the cat—and that didn't happen all that often. They should take advantage of it. If he didn't want to, of course, they didn't have to, but she really wouldn't mind if they did. She really wanted to. She leaned over and kissed him. "It isn't easy for us to make time, after all, and we are already here."
"With an audience."
"You brought home enough footballs to distract her for a whole evening, and we can go into the bedroom and shut the door."
"She doesn't respect the idea of doors, either."
He laughed. "You are determined."
"Or just horny."
"Or that," he agreed, helping her up to her feet. She walked with him, laughing as he stopped to dump the bag of footballs over, leaving them on the floor. She made sure to close the door behind them, ignoring Nico's look as she did. She was determined to put the cat out of both of their minds if only for a few minutes. She just wanted to be alone with him. Here and now.
She sat down on the bed and pulled him with her. He kissed her, and she started in on the buttons on his shirt. She was slipping it off his shoulders when she caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye. "Bagheera."
Nico lifted his head and sighed. He pointed to the door and gave a command in that language the leopard usually responded to, but the cat didn't move. Dani closed her eyes and shook her head. This was not happening. She was not going to do this in front of the cat. She couldn't. "I was hoping that she'd stay out for longer."
"She seems to think it's her right to sleep with me."
"So I have to share you with a cat?"
"I told you. I'm taking her to the other nature preserve tomorrow," Nico insisted, and Dani leaned her head against his chest. She sighed. It was bad enough trying to find time with their jobs, her family, his family, TK, and now—a panther? They were cursed, weren't they?
Nico looked at her. "Oh, I see. You think it's cute that I've had this cat following me for days. You don't believe that I've been acting in it's best interests all this time, trying to find a place where she can actually live. You think it's funny when she intimidates people. When she threatens them. But now that she interferes with you having sex, it's not funny or cute this time."
"You make that sound... terrible."
"The cat has to go so you can have sex."
She almost smacked him. "Quit it. It's not—you're making it worse than it is. I didn't mean that you had to get rid of her just so we could have sex. Really. I do love Bagheera. I think she's adorable. I'm a bit nervous around her—everyone is—but I have always supported you keeping her. I think she's good for you."
He made a face. "She's not. She's going."
Dani looked at Bagheera almost sadly. "I will miss her, I think. Not now. Now I'm kind of pissed, especially since I think I'd better just ask you to take me home."
They both turned to the cat. Bagheera purred at them, looking innocent.
"I don't understand. Why is it that three different nature preserves have proved unable to accept one damn cat?" Nico asked, shooting the leopard a dark look. He really did not understand. He should have been able to take Bagheera to any number of locations, to place her in a facility and with a staff that could take care of her. The staff would keep its distance, of course, let her be a free and wild animal like she should be, but he couldn't seem to get anyone to do that. First there was the place with the zoologist who thought the cat was his spirit guide, and then three more had suddenly developed problems. One had been closed due to an investigation into exotic animal trafficking, a second was under investigation for mistreating the animals, and the third had taken on the animals from the other two, leaving no room for admissions. They'd offered Nico a place on their waiting list.
A waiting list or the place with the spirit guide. Or something in another hemisphere.
"Nico, I'm sorry," Danielle said, putting her hands on his shoulders and kissing his cheek. "And before you say it, it is not because we haven't been able to be alone."
He looked at her. "I know that."
She started to massage his shoulders a little. "I don't know that I'm any good at this, but you are very tense. If I can help you, I'll try. I also might be completely off-base with this suggestion, and I'm not sure about it myself, but maybe if you went back to the place where they decided that she was your spirit guide... If you... I don't know. You know how to get the staff changed or—maybe if you talked to the guy you could convince him that Bagheera's not a guide. She's just a leopard in need of a home."
"I am afraid I may be stuck holding onto her for longer, even if it's not what I want or what's best for her," Nico admitted. "Unless I'm prepared to accept that she is a spirit guide, make peace with that, and wait until she disappears."
Danielle looked over at the panther, who was mauling yet another football. "Do you actually like this game? I'm just curious. You did say that Matt probably got attacked because of the hostility between the two of you. Maybe she's reacting to your dislike of the game by eating the footballs."
"Must you analyze me?"
"I'm not trying to," she said, wincing. She sighed. "I want to help and that makes me more analytical. I'm sorry. I analyze people, not situations. You do that. Your brain has been working overtime ever since your sister dropped Bagheera off."
"It would be nice to have another break, but as I have a large cat that follows me everywhere—and I do mean everywhere—even that is impossible. I am trying to be patient, but I don't know how much longer this can last. I don't trust that place I went to where they told me that I had a spirit guide, and now it's looking like none of the others can be trusted, either. Still, I don't know how I can keep her. She doesn't belong here. My apartment's too small. My work requires that I be able to go beyond the walls of this stadium and my apartment building, but how do I do that with a giant cat following me? If I don't take her in the car, she follows on foot, and she's caused accidents. So I bring her in the car and she becomes so desperate to get out if I try and leave her in the car that she breaks glass or ruins upholstery. She'd break metal if she could."
"Maybe should you should take her to one of the more distant preserves. Do further research?"
"Or get in touch with my spirit guide," he joked bitterly. Bagheera put her head in his lap and looked up at him. Nico looked at Danielle. "I want a drink. This is really starting to get to me."
"Fifteen years is a lot to give up. And I don't think your spirit guide likes this idea very much."
Nico glared at the leopard. "I'm starting to think that this spirit guide is going to have to take a very long trip. Don't even look at me like that, cat. I am sick and tired of you breaking down bathroom doors."
He forced the leopard's head out of his lap and rose. Bagheera watched him, and Nico pointed to the cat. "Stop staring at me. I have always hated surveillance, hated people watching me. You are definitely going. I don't do pets, and I don't want you."
"Nico," Danielle said, standing up and touching his arm. "I think you need some rest. Maybe if we talk to a vet, get a sedative, give you a few hours... You are way too stressed."
"I have a stalker," he said, shaking his head. "I do. It's not what anyone would expect, but that's essentially what this cat is doing to me. I'm surprised I didn't see this sooner. It was just an obnoxious pet at first, but now... Now I think I'm actually starting to feel the psychological strain from being stalked, constantly, by a giant cat."
Bagheera lowered her head, looking almost apologetic. Nico shook his head. "It's not going to work. Just leave me alone."
"You came back."
"Against my better judgment, yes," Nico said, rubbing his forehead. He didn't sleep, but that didn't mean that jet lag never caught up to him, either. He'd tried to negotiate with the other preserves, but no matter how talented or acclaimed the zoologists and veterinarians were, none of them seemed to speak English or any of the other languages he knew. He didn't feel right leaving the cat in a place where he had to find a translator just to ask for a status update. Some of them did have English speakers, but either the accent or the comprehension interfered with any real conversation.
"You brought your spirit guide along?"
Nico looked at the leopard and sighed. He'd actually told her to stay where she was, but she didn't listen. She never did. "What is it going to take to convince you that she is not a spirit guide and that you should treat her as such?"
"Well... you'd have to complete the ceremony."
Nico had a feeling that putting both himself and the leopard out of their misery might be easier, but he nodded. "What ceremony?"
"The spirit ceremony. Come with me," the zoologist—if that was what he really was because Nico had his doubts about that but he'd been pushed a little too far and didn't know where else he was going to put this cat. He needed to find some place he could trust, and if he got this man past the delusion about spirit guides, maybe that would be enough.
"If this involves getting naked in a sweat lodge and smoking peyote, you can forget it," Nico warned as he followed the other man. Next to him, Bagheera gave a low rumble, close to a growl. He didn't know what that meant, but it seemed clear that she wasn't exactly happy about this. Nico almost smiled. Let the cat get pissed off. She'd done enough to him lately.
"No, that's an exaggeration, a stereotype. What you really need to be able to do is meditate."
"Meditation and I have never gotten along, either," Nico told him. He had tried the various techniques in the past—both on his own and at the recommendations of his doctors, who were always trying to get him to sleep more, by drugs or by therapy or even alternative methods. His mind went to the things that he could not escape, and he was not going to dwell on them anymore than he had to.
"You've never been able to clear your mind before. That's why the spirit couldn't come to you."
"Is there anyone who actually does believe you speak the truth? I'm going to send them to a deprogrammer."
"I thought you knew a good therapist."
"Then why not send them to her?"
"Because as much as I trust her, this delusion you have seems incredibly strong, and if people believe you, then... She would have a hard time convincing them otherwise, and I'd rather spare her the trouble."
"You care about her, then. This is the first time that you've been open to anyone in a long time. No wonder the spirit guide has finally found you," the other man said, and Nico found himself considering his options. He could save himself considerable trouble and leave. He could hurt the man, which might make him feel a bit better for a while but would only create more problems later, including leaving him without a place to leave Bagheera again. Or he could get this over with.
"She's a leopard, not a spirit guide. She's very tangible, very real, and no amount of acceptance is possible. She's interfering with my life. She should not be in the city. Now do whatever it is you have to do to take this cat off my hands and be done with it. Just leave my personal life and discussion of the spirit world out of it."
"You're not a very open-minded person, are you?"
"I'm very open to doing you physical harm right now."
"You miss her, don't you?" Dani asked, wrapping her arms around Nico and holding onto him for a long moment. He'd been through a lot in the last week, dealing with Bagheera, and he looked completely run down right now. She hoped now that he'd have a chance to rest. He needed a break.
"What, Bagheera? Why would I miss her? She's been—"
Dani put a finger over his lips. "You did like her, even as much as she frustrated you."
He lifted her fingers. "I am glad that she has finally has a place where she can be what she needs to be."
"So now you can get some sleep without your cat staring at you all night. Or snoring."
"Yes," Nico agreed. He touched Dani's face gently. "It is strange, actually, being this... alone. Not that I mind being with you, but I keep expecting to be interrupted."
"And that would be why you didn't suggest moving to the bedroom even though we were finally alone again?"
She frowned. "You looked tired. I just figured that we'd talk a bit, that maybe we'd fall asleep together... If you're not as tired as you look, then I... Well, I have been missing you, so I'm not in anyway opposed to the idea, but are you sure that you're not tired?"
"It's surprising how much energy you have when you are finally free of a leopard stalker."
Dani laughed, letting him pull her to her feet. "Okay. This is kind of a weird conversation and lead up, but I think with us we're just going to have to accept that as part of...us and it's never going to be perfectly normal or romantic, and we'd hate it if it was."
"I think that we should stop talking."
He kissed her, and she didn't object to his suggestion, not a bit. They made their way back to the bedroom, managing to get some of the clothes off as they did. They fell onto the bed together, and he started working on her neck. She moaned, turning to the side. She caught sight of something from the corner of her eye and frowned.
"Nico," Dani managed to say in between kisses. "I think—is that a cat?"
"It can't be. Ignore it."
She nodded. It had to be paranoia. After the last time, it was understandable. Still, she could have sworn she saw another black shadow. "I think that was a cat."
"It's not Bagheera. There's no way she could be here," Nico insisted. He turned Dani's head so that she could look at him. "It is just you and me and no one else, human, feline, or otherwise."
Dani nodded, but she couldn't help feeling like they were being watched.