After I had freshened up, I went downstairs in search of food and found Croatoan already raiding the kitchen. He had found a large knife and a cutting board, and I walked in on him slicing vegetables as smoothly as those chefs you see on TV.
"I didn't know you could cook," I commented, pretty surprised at first- though the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He prefered to avoid public places like restaurants, and he had always lived alone, so there was no one to cook for him.
"Of course I can cook," He said matter-of-factly, "Did you really think, after living as long as I have, I would've neglected to learn? How would I eat?" He finished slicing up a head of broccoli, then asked me which meat I most wanted him to cook. I pulled a steak out of the refrigerator and he fired up the stove; the end result was pretty good. Not as good as my dad's, but then, no one ever was. I sat at the counter to eat; he leaned against the wall across from me, and for a while there was an awkward silence between us.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" I finally asked. Wiping tears off my face, cooking a meal- none of that was like him. It was just so odd; I concluded he must have some ulterior motive behind it.
He sighed. "Look, kid, you have to eat, right?"
"No, it's not just that..." I pressed, "You've been acting... Different. Almost like... Almost like you care, or something." I searched his eyes for some signs of emotion, but they were cast downward. Typical.
He paused for a moment, then began, "Ever since Mevolent returned, you've been more edgy, and also more reckless. If you ask me, you're the one who's not acting like yourself. Of course, you have every reason to be acting different- you've been through a lot. I'm just trying to get you back on your feet. I won't lie- this binding spell is tricky business, and you need to be at your best if you have any hope of getting through this." He took a deep breath, and actually yawned- I had never seen him do that before. "Also, between you and all your friends nearly dying, I'm tired. I wasn't lying when I told you I'm more tired than I've been in years. Maybe decades. So once I'm done eating I'm going to sleep, and I couldn't have you whining around for food. That good enough for you?"
I took a moment to think through everything he had said to me. It all made perfect sense, really. And the more I looked at him, the more I realized that he was tired; even in the way he leaned against the wall, far more heavily than usual. And he was right about me acting differently, too. I had been more edgy since Mevolent came back... "Fair point." I conceded, "But do you really trust me enough right now to fall asleep in my house?"
"No," He admitted shamelessly, "But I trust myself to wake up before you kill me." And without further discussion he vanished up the stairs, leaving me with a small collection of dirty dishes. To be honest, I was slightly relieved- it would just be creepy if he had actually washed all the dishes. And somehow it was comforting to hear him say he didn't trust me, in the strangest way; it made me feel more removed from the situation. Like I really didn't have any control. And that meant if I did try to hurt someone, it wouldn't be my fault. I wonder if that was his intention. Still, if I ended up killing someone I cared about, I knew I would never forgive myself.
Once he finished dinner, Croatoan left Aretha to deal with the dirty dishes and curled up on her couch upstairs. It was a bit small for his liking; he shifted easily into a black cat, and fit perfectly. It was nice to finally be able to lay down and get some rest, but he had a few things to mull over before he fell asleep. First off, why the Hell had he promised not to let her hurt anyone? Well, obviously because it would keep her from hating herself forever, but...
He barely even knew what he was getting into, and already he knew it would be a mess. Sure, he could keep her away from people she might attack, but that was a full time occupation and there was no way she could be helpful in this war if she did that. Niccolo, of all people, knew that she wouldn't allow herself taken out of the picture so easily. The truth was, he had no plan. No idea at all what to do. But dreams were supposed to be helpful in solving problems like this, and he was dead tired, so he closed his eyes and was asleep in minutes.
Once I had finished cleaning up the kitchen, I trotted up the staris as silently as I could and peeked into my room; there was a black cat asleep on my brown round couch. Niccolo, obviously. I closed the door slowly, as softly as I could- and then, all of a sudden, the most horrifying idea I'd ever had popped into my head. I left Croatoan asleep on the couch- as tired as he was, he wouldn't move for hours unless I woke him up- and called a cab, heading for the airport. I boarded the next plane landing near home; I was going to pay my family a visit. And I prayed Croatoan would find me before I found them.