Fae Shifter Knights bonus story: Stray
Warning: This story contains minor spoilers for the Fae Shifter Knights series!
Gwen had no intention of getting a cat.
She’d thought about a dog—Vesta and Fabio were so adorable and engaging that she was a little bit jealous of Daniella and Heather. For their pets…and for their gorgeous guys. She was the only one in some kind of crazy limbo, waiting for her literal knight in not-so-literal shining armor to show up. A dog might be a nice companion in the meantime, so she’d considered adopting one.
But not a cat.
“You’re at the wrong house,” she told the bedraggled Siamese through the glass door.
It looked up at her and yowled a disagreement.
It was raining, and cold enough to threaten snow. (Heather was thrilled…the rest of the household, much less so.)
“This is a dog household,” Gwen told it. “Ferocious dogs. Two of them.”
The Siamese pawed at the door.
“Okay, Fabio’s kind of a push-over, but that Vesta! You have to watch out for her. Though she is little, she is fierce!”
The sodden cat sat down and gave Gwen a look through the glass that could have melted even Robin’s cold, fable heart.
One faint, half-hearted mew, big eyes fixed on Gwen, and the key was sighing in defeat and sliding the porch door open.
“I don’t have any cat food,” she warned.
The cat stalked in, tail high, and went straight for the dog dish. She sat beside it expectantly.
“It’s dog food,” Gwen told her, getting a handful of Fabio’s nuggets from the tin under the counter.
The sound, of course, woke Fabio from wherever he was sleeping, and there was a clatter of dog claws on the wooden floors above them, then the eager thump-thump-thump-thump of him tromping down the stairs.
The cat crunched on the dog food, unconcerned, as Fabio skidded into the room and stopped cold.
Gwen, a dish towel in her hand, found herself in a fighting pose, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble.
Fabio’s tail began to wave, slowly, and he trotted forward cautiously.
The cat ignored him, except for the barest flicker of her ears, and finished the food with a satisfied little mrrrrt.
Fabio, whose tail was approaching unseeable at the speed it was going, lowered his head to sniff her and the cat fearlessly butted her head into his nose and then twined between his feathered front legs while Fabio stood stone still in shock.
The cat walked to Gwen, looked up, and said something demanding in cat.
Gwen was still holding the dish towel, so she crouched down and proceeded to dry off the cat.
The cat, who Gwen was sinkingly sure would need a name soon, was all in favor of the procedure, rubbing her face into the towel and purring as Gwen gently dried her short fur.
Fabio could not be left out of such goings on, and he growled and tried to play with the towel. He got too rambunctious, and the cat gave him a warning hiss, but the bat of her paw across his nose had claws withdrawn. It still gave Fabio pause, and he lay down with his face pressed into the floor contritely.
When the cat had been thoroughly dried, her short fur standing up in all directions, she stalked away from Gwen and jumped athletically up onto the arm of one of the living room chairs. She looked pointedly at the seat of the chair, glared at Gwen, and began grooming herself.
Fabio went to poke her with his nose, but this answering swipe did come with claws, and the cat gave him a blue-eyed stare that sent him back to the floor with his tail wagging furiously.
Gwen obediently took a seat next to the cat and was unsurprised when her lap was immediately claimed by kneading paws.
The cat was thin enough to feel every rib, and her tail was lumpy with bone and had a little crook at the end where it must have once been broken. She turned several times and then settled into a warm, purring weight in Gwen’s lap.
Gwen was still pinned there when Heather and Daniella returned from work.
“Where’s Fabio?” Daniella called, stomping her feet off on the mat just inside the front door.
Fabio whined, not wanting to move from his surveillance of the cat, but beat his tail against the floor. Gwen heard the scrabble of tiny claws as Heather set Vesta down, and in a moment, the little Italian Greyhound was streaking into the living room.
The cat, no longer purring, raised her head and swiveled big, dark ears at the incoming whirlwind.
Vesta came to a screeching stop at Gwen’s feet and gazed up as the cat dug alarmed claws into Gwen’s lap.
“Ow, ow, Vesta, stay down. Nice kitty, nice kitty.”
“You got a cat?” Heather exclaimed, walking into the living room.
“Oh, it’s a kitty!” Daniella cooed. “Where’d you find it?”
“Kitty found me,” Gwen said, wincing. “Walked right up to the back door and made me let her in.”
The cat sat up, glaring down at Vesta, who had her front paws on Gwen’s leg and was hopping in place, barking in excitement. Fabio, determined not to be left out, stood up and shoved his nose into the cat’s side.
No one was entirely sure what order everything happened in after that, but Fabio tucked tail and went running with a scratched nose, and Vesta was rather suddenly boxed to the floor.
When the dust settled, the cat was grooming herself on the floor next to the chair with an apparent lack of concern, Vesta lying flat in utter shock nearby.
All of the animals seemed to decide that completely ignoring each other was their best method forward. Fabio collected comfort from Daniella and nursed his wounded dignity. Vesta, trembling, walked around the room in a daze and went to collect a toy to destroy while Heather knelt to greet the cat.
Gwen was surprised, after the forward friendliness of the cat, that she only tolerated Heather’s attention, didn’t invite more, and after taking the head scratches coolly as her due, she returned to Gwen’s lap, where she perched like a sphinx surveying her domain.
“I think you’ve been adopted,” Daniella observed. To Fabio, she added, “You’re not hurt, you big weenie. She didn’t even draw blood.”
“I don’t want a cat,” Gwen protested, but she caught herself stroking the cat, and she could feel a nascent purr against her legs. “This is a dog house.”
“I think she’d disagree,” Heather said, rising to her feet again. “What are you going to name her?”
“I can’t name her,” Gwen groaned. “I have to put up posters for her!”
“Our vet is great,” Daniella said merrily. “She takes cats as well as dogs.”
“I don’t even know if Ansel will want another pet here,” Gwen pointed out. “Maybe he’s allergic to cats!”
“Ansel isn’t,” he volunteered himself, coming in from the front door laden with bags. The dogs, who had missed his entrance because they were too busy studiously ignoring the cat, made up for lost time by baying at him and coming to swarm at his feet. “Who’s our new guest?”
The cat had her ears pinned back in annoyance at the commotion and gave him a conversational yowl that made everyone laugh.
“Really, do you mind?” Gwen asked later, when she was alone with Ansel in the kitchen helping him put groceries away. “I mean, all of this has sort of just been dumped on you. You probably don’t need a bunch of pets underfoot, too…”
Demonstrating, the cat was twining around her feet and doing her elegant best to remind Gwen that all she’d had to eat was dog food.
Ansel gave her a warm, tolerant smile, which was basically Ansel in a nutshell. “I was an only child,” he said rather sheepishly. “I always wanted a house full of people, and instead, I had a giant, silent library. This…makes a nice change.” He crouched down and offered the cat—very clearly Gwen’s cat by now—his hand.
The unnamed cat considered it thoughtfully, then rubbed her face against his fingers and permitted him to stroke her.
“I guess we’ll have to name her,” Ansel said, as the cat put her front feet on his knee and expressed her poor opinion of his shirt.
“Bossy?” Gwen suggested.
“Sounds like a name for a cow,” Ansel chuckled, giving the cat a ruffle as he stood. “Gym Socks?”
“Gym Socks?” Gwen sputtered in outrage.
“Just skipping to the inevitable,” Ansel said with a shrug. “That’s how pet names always go. They start with something elegant, like Alexandria, but then you just call her Sweet Pea, and after a while, Sweetie, then someone calls her Sweaty, and the next thing you know, you have a cat named Gym Socks.”
“I like it,” Gwen said, scooping the cat up into her arms. For just a moment, the feline tolerated the embrace, then squirmed out of her arms to pull herself up onto Gwen’s shoulder.
“Gym Socks?” Ansel laughed, returning to putting groceries away.
“Alexandria,” Gwen chuckled. “I don’t think it will come to Gym Socks.”
The Siamese purred and rubbed against Gwen’s temple.
And that is how Alexandria Gym Socks came to live with them in Ansel’s big house, and rule over all of the dogs.