The sun was getting low in the sky even though it was only near four in the afternoon, the thin pale light of winter dim and weak. The bare branches of the woods behind the house seemed stark and naked against the misty sky, the back yard still littered with crumpled brown leaves. The windows left patches of warm light outside as Nathaniel moved through the rooms, awake and getting ready for another evening.
He had slept and gotten up, showered and dressed. He pulled on a clingy shirt and looked over the gifts Tom Cat had made for him. He ran his hands over the pants, touching the straps that ran down the legs with a fondness. Tom Cat barely knew him, but these fit Nathaniel in all senses of the word. He slipped them on and padded barefoot to the kitchen.
Cherry had just awoken and had stepped out of the shower, and was heading to her room wrapped in a bathrobe when she smelt the warm smell of Nathaniel. She padded softly to him, smiling. "Hello Nathaniel. How are you doing?" she asked as she went up and hugged him before nuzzling him in greeting.
Nathaniel rubbed his head along her jaw in greeting. "Cherry," he exclaimed happily as he hugged her. "I didn't hear you come in before; I was asleep." He stepped back, gesturing around the room. "Are you hungry? 'Cause I cooked up a storm and I need help clearing it out of the house." He moved to refill the coffee pot. "I'm doing a lot better, thank you."
"I had a late shift last night and some things came up which put me late," she said, watching him as they moved to the kitchen. " And yes, I'm famished and would love some food and some of your famous coffee." She sat and watched him.
Nathaniel smiled. That was the Cherry that he had known! He busied himself in the kitchen, pulling together a platter from all the various spots on the counter and the fridge while the coffee brewed. "I went back to work last night," he remarked. He set the plate of baked goods--several different cookies, slices of banana bread, pumpkin scones--on the breakfast nook table and gathered up the coffee materials. "Missed you at Guilty Pleasures."
"I know, Nathaniel. I wanted to come but work kept me. How did it go? No problems?" she asked, smiling softly as she picked at some of the cookies. "Mmm, these are good."
Nathaniel gave a wide, happy smile. "I forgot that Anita and Micah were going to be out of town, so I have way too much food. There's other stuff in the fridge, if you want something more substantial." He handed her a coffee mug. "It was great. All the fans showed up and I had a great take. Byron and I did that new number we were working on before..." His voice trailed off. "Well, you know, before."
She smiled at him. "You know I will eat anything that you put in front of me, Nat. Love your cooking," she said softly. She went silent at the mention of the nightmare that was Alec before she looked up at him. "Are you sure you are doing fine? You know I'm here for you."
A shadow flitted across Nathaniel's face, gone as quickly as it came. "I know you are," he answered quietly. "And I appreciate it. Physically I'm healed up, thanks to Dr. Lillian and Micah." He chased a crumb around the table with a finger. "I've been seeing my therapist and sponsor about the rest. They've really helped."
She caught the flash but didn't comment, knowing Nathaniel would want her to pretend. She nodded her head in understanding. "And do they say you are doing okay? They helped me when I came back from being gone. They have a way of getting you to talk even when you don't want to."
Nathaniel laughed. "Sometimes they do, yeah. But they say I'm coming along." He went and got the freshly brewed coffee and poured it into her mug, offering the cream and sugar before putting it back on the hot plate. He got a glass and some milk and sat back down. "So, how are you? What have you been doing lately?"
Cherry made her cup of coffee and sipped at it, smiling softly. Between Nathaniel and Anita they had gotten her hooked on this stuff. "I'm scared. With what that vampire did to you and then with both Anita and Micah being gone, I have been so scared that I figure if I just work, it will make it all better," she said, whispering the last part.
Nathaniel took one of the scones and put it on a napkin next to his glass. "Sounds like we've both been through a lot of bad shit lately," he said. He sighed. "I'm really glad that Alec got burned, but yeah, sometimes I'm still scared. And angry, too. I really don't like Anita and Micah been out of town without me, but they have jobs to do. They can't coddle me for the rest of my life." He broke off the tip of the scone and chewed it thoughtfully. "You remember what it was like, Cherry, with Gabriel. We've survived a lot of things before."
She nodded her head. "But none such as this. I'm just so scared that maybe he isn't dead and he is going to come back for you. Or if not him someone else. I sometimes wonder if perhaps we would have been better off on our own, without Anita and all the other stuff she brought with her," she said, staring down at her hands.
Merle entered the home, coming to check on the last of the pard. He wanted to make sure that Nathaniel was doing fine after his show last night. Catching the scent of Cherry he smiled. It would be nice to speak with her as well. Walking down the hall he could hear them speaking and paused to listen. Hearing the last of Cherry's comments he came into the room and said, "And yet without her, our two pards never would have become one."
"Merle!" Nathaniel was out of his seat in a flash. He flopped on the floor next to Merle's feet, taking his hand and licking along the top of it. "It's been a while since I've seen you." He rubbed against him in an exact imitation of a house cat.
Merle let the other cat do the proper greeting and waited while Cherry repeated the process before speaking. "And you, young one--I take it you are feeling better?" He followed both cats back to the coffee and cookies and sat.
Cherry returned to her seat as she remained quite a bit ashamed of her earlier comment. She let Nathaniel and Merle speak and just listened and waited for a rebuke she was sure to come.
"Yes, sir, a lot better," Nathaniel replied. He put a mug in front of Merle. "I've got other food in the fridge. I can heat it up for you if you like," he offered.
Merle took the coffee and added some cream as he looked at Nathaniel and shook his head no. "I'm fine with just this. I ate before I came over. Perhaps next time. So, how did the show go last night?" he asked as he sipped his coffee.
"Made a lot of money and kept the boss happy," Nathaniel answered. Sitting back in his seat, he mentioned, "Gregory brought Stephen over this morning."
Merle sipped the coffee as he listened to Nathaniel. "How is he doing? Did the visit go well?" he asked, watching the other cats' reactions as he spoke.
Nathaniel hesitated in replying. "He was...he's doing okay, Merle, but he was pretty badly hurt."
Nodding his head, Merle glanced at Cherry then back to Nathaniel. "Has he been seeing a therapist for this? And have you as well?"
"He will be now," Nathaniel said, "but he wasn't before. I was seeing someone before, so I'm covered." Nathaniel gave Merle a long look. Merle had been the Nimir-Raj of the Blooddrinkers clan before handing the position over to Micah. In the past Nathaniel had limited contact with the older man, and didn't really know how to discuss things with him. But Merle was the senior member of the pard, and with Micah and Anita out of town, it was logical that he be the one to turn to for authority. "Merle, I'm...Everyone knows I'm the last person who should be in charge of anything. I'm assuming that the Nimir-Raj and -Ra wasn't aware of how deeply Stephen was hurt, and Gregory didn't tell any of us. But it bothers me that he didn't get the help he needed, same as I did. Someone needs to tell his Ulfric about it." Nathaniel didn't add that he was probably the worst person to contact Richard. He and Richard had gotten into more than one pissing contest, and surprisingly, he had usually been the victor.
Merle nodded to the other as he spoke, listening and frowning at things that Nathaniel had said. He too couldn't believe or understand how Richard would have missed something this big about one of his pack. Merle remained quiet for a while longer before he spoke. "I will see what I can do in making sure Stephen is taken care of the way he needs to be. I will speak with the Ulfric about it, and allow him to handle it from there. But perhaps you might be able to offer him some support and help as well, with having gone through the same thing. I was just sorry I wasn't here to help you like I should have been."
Nathaniel smiled. He could understand how they both could have been Nimir-Raj; Micah often said similar things. "Stephen had a different experience than I did, and..." Again he hesitated before going on. "I've been through things like this before. Not that Stephen's never been through things, but the twins and I have different ways of coping with trauma. And Merle, about helping me--it's okay. I had a support system already in place before this thing with Alec." Nathaniel looked over at Cherry and reached out his hand. She had been on the periphery of his care at the hospital, been part of his recovery not just this time, but plenty of times before, all the way back to Gabriel and Raina.
Cherry gave Nathaniel a smile and held his hand tighter as she blushed a bit. She glanced up at Merle as she whispered, "If Richard would like, I would be happy to help Stephen out as well with anything if he wishes it." She had been there for Stephen a few times as well when he was hurt, along with Nathaniel.
Merle looked to her, nodding his head. "I will pass the message along to him as well." He turned back to Nathaniel just watching him a bit before he continued. "Maybe you and Stephen had different experiences, but I'm sure there were things that were the same. And even if they were different, you both were there at his hands and it might help to talk to someone who will understands. Maybe by you speaking to him you can show him your ways of dealing with it, and there just might be that one idea or word that gives him what he needs to get through this. It won't hurt to offer, if you feel like it."
"I'm always there for both Stephen and Gregory, but I hear what you're saying. Stephen can relate to me, and I can to him, because we shared in it." Nathaniel sighed. "Thanks, Merle. And you, too, Cherry."
"That was exactly what I was saying Nathaniel," Merle said. "I will allow you to make your choice on offering that to Stephen, however you want." Sipping the last bit of his coffee he stood up and smiled at both cats. "I must be going, have a few more rounds to stop before I call it a day. And keep your chins up, both Anita and Micah will return home soon. Don't worry."
Nathaniel nodded. He certainly hoped so, although he didn't say it out loud. He stood up, too, and took the empty cup from him. "Will you take some food with you, Merle? I really do have way too much."
Cherry stood as well and couldn't help but smile at Nathaniel's urge for Merle to take food. "Always the busy body, aren't you Nathaniel? Better take it Merle, before he goes crazy here." She gives him a wink and smile as she said it.
Nathaniel smiled back at Cherry and stuck out his tongue. "You, too, Cherry. You have to take something with you. You said you were hungry, and cookies aren't enough."
Merle couldn't help but chuckle as well at this and shook his head. "How can I turn free food down? I will take some to munch on while I work." He smiled and waited for the food.
Nathaniel moved into the kitchen and began to pack up some of the other things he had in the fridge: slices of meatloaf, roasted potatoes, cooked carrots, green beans, baked herbed chicken. He added more of the cookies in other bags and slipped the packages into grocery bags for them.
Merle took the bag, and giving Nathaniel a hug he turned to leave. "You take care, Nathaniel, and if you need anything, call me. I will stop by tomorrow again so we can talk." He slipped out of the house as quietly as he had entered it, carrying his bag on his arm.
Cherry took her bag, giving Nathaniel a kiss on the cheek as she chuckled. "You are going to get me all fat here, Nathaniel. I won't be able to work tonight, you know." She gave him a hug and smiled. " Have fun tonight at work and I will see you in the morning. Call me at the center if you need anything, okay?"
"Of course I'll call," Nathaniel said. "And you'll burn that right off when you shift, Cherry, you know that." He watched them make their way to their cars and drive off. The sky was already fully dark. Quietly he shut the door. Time to clean up and get going. He had an appointment to keep in a few hours.