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care and feeding

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“Toby, I swear to god, I didn’t mean to do it,” Quentin said as I opened the door.

“That’s good to know,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “Can I ask what, precisely, you didn’t mean to do?” I was joking, but Quentin didn’t smile, just grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the living room.

In front of me, Raj—Prince of Cats and my semi-official squire—flopped over on his side, grinning vacantly up at the two of us. Cagney and Lacey were curled up next to him; Cagney was licking his right wrist, and Lacey was draped across his shoulder, purring like an outboard motor and drooling industriously on his neck.

As crises went, it was better than a lot of them—it beat the hell out of being kidnapped by a Firstborn, for example—but it still wasn’t what I had been expecting to see when I got home.

“Explain,” I said, dropping my bag on a chair.

“We were sparring,” Quentin said, sitting down on the couch, rubbing his palms against his thighs. “Down in the park, because it’s so nice out.”

“In the park?” I sat down next to Quentin and raised an eyebrow.

“With glamours on! I’m not a moron.” I glanced down at Raj, who was rubbing his cheek against the carpet—not something I would have tried, given the general cleanliness of our household, but to each his own. I looked back at Quentin, who deflated. “We got pretty bruised up, so we swung by Walgreens on the way back.”

When Quentin started as my squire, he was your typical stiff-necked Daoine Sidhe, dismissive of all things human. His time with me had changed him, that was for sure—I just hoped that his parents, whoever they were, would appreciate their son’s newfound love of fast-food restaurants, 24-hour convenience stores, and diner coffee.

“Okay, so you went to Walgreens, where you got…”

“Icy Hot,” Quentin said. Now that he mentioned it, I recognized the smell. I nodded, and Quentin continued. “We came back here, he got my back, and I was doing his, and then he got all...weird.”

We paused for a moment, both of us looking down at Raj, who grinned up at us.

“Hi, Toby,” he said. “How are you?”

“Pretty good, Raj,” I said, smiling. “How are you doing?”

“I’m great,” he said, smiling even wider. “I’m amazing, Toby.”

“Glad to hear it, kiddo,” I said, smiling back. I glanced over at Quentin. “And he’s been like this for…?”

“Twenty minutes, maybe?” Quentin shrugged. “I just—I don’t know what happened to him.”

“I do,” said a voice from behind the couch.

“Tybalt!” Quentin and I turned at the same time to look at Tybalt. We hadn’t heard him come in, but that was normal; nobody ever hears the King of Cats coming unless he wants them to.

“Hello, October,” he said, leaning over the back of the couch to brush his lips across mine. “Quentin.”

Quentin swallowed hard, looking distinctly pale. Fair enough: Tybalt would be well within his rights to take exception to whatever Quentin had done to his nephew and heir. I didn’t think that he would—Tybalt didn’t seem at all alarmed by whatever had gotten into Raj—but in Faerie circles, it’s not always wise to assume tolerance and understanding.

“Menthol,” Tybalt said, sniffing the air. “A derivative of mint, from the lamiaceae family. Which also contains—”

“Catnip—or as it’s sometimes called, catmint. Congratulations, Quentin,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You got the Prince of Cats stoned.”

“Oak and ash,” Quentin said, slumping in his seat. “Tybalt—sire—I am so, so sorry.”

“Think nothing of it,” Tybalt said, coming around the arm of the couch to insinuate himself against my side. “The effects are short-lived, even for our cousins,” he added, with a nod towards Cagney and Lacey, still sprawled on the rug. “He will be himself again shortly.”

“And he’ll be fine?” Quentin still looked worried. “I swear, I didn’t mean to—”

“I’m fine, Quentin,” Raj said, opening his eyes a little. “I’m stoned, not brainwashed.” He smiled at Tybalt. “Hello, uncle.”

“Hello, Raj,” Tybalt said, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Yup,” Raj replied, popping the “p” sound for emphasis. “Seriously, though, Quentin, you need to get down here—this sunbeam is awesome.”Quentin glanced at Tybalt.

“Go,” Tybalt said, waving a lazy hand, and Quentin folded himself onto the floor. Raj, seeing the opportunity, promptly eeled around until his head was firmly in Quentin’s lap.

“I didn’t realize catnip worked on Cait Sidhe, too,” I said, stretching my legs into the unoccupied half of the couch and leaning back against Tybalt.

“Not all of us,” Tybalt said. “It’s an inherited trait, just as it is for our cousins.” He shrugged. “It relaxes us, makes us more tactile. More affectionate,” he added, and Quentin blushed.

“So it’s kitty ecstasy, basically.” I smirked. “Cool. Raj, did you know this could happen?”

“Nooooo,” he said, burying his face against Quentin’s stomach. “I knew about catnip, I mean, but not the mint thing, and I never tried it. Mmm, yeah,” he added, “that’s awesome, Quentin.” Quentin jerked, but didn’t stop carding his hands through Raj’s soft, dark hair.

“I don’t encourage it in my Court,” Tybalt said. “I don’t particularly care for it—it’s a distraction, and we have more than enough of those already.”

“I’ll say,” I agreed. “Well, if nobody’s in any danger, I think I’d like a nap.” I stood up, offering Tybalt a hand. “Behave yourself, boys,” I said. “We’ll be upstairs.”

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Raj said, pushing himself lazily to his hands and knees.

“Um, yeah,” Quentin agreed. Tybalt and I were halfway up the stairs to my bedroom—closer and closer to being our bedroom, these days—when we heard a dull thud and a yelp. We paused, looking at each other.

“Quentin? Raj?”

“We’re fine!” Quentin’s voice was wobbling, but he didn’t seem distressed. “We’re—Raj, quit it!” There was a muffled scuffle, and the sound of footsteps, and an offended meow from one of the standard-issue cats.

“We’re fine, we’ll be in Quentin’s room,” Raj called up, and then the door slammed. I looked across the hall to Tybalt, who had closed his eyes and was looking vaguely pained.

“I should probably go and confiscate the substance in question,” he said, rubbing a hand across his forehead. “In the interests of preserving my future heir’s brain cells.”

“Way ahead of you,” I said, handing him the tube of Icy Hot that I’d snagged from the coffee table. Tybalt opened his eyes and tilted his head at me, eyes narrowed. “I thought it might be interesting,” I said, “and either way, I think they’ve had enough substance abuse for one morning.” A muffled shout punctuated my statement, and Tybalt rolled his eyes and continued up the stairs.

“Anybody who drinks as much coffee as you do has no room to cast stones on the subject of substance abuse,” Tybalt said, leading me into the bedroom. “And if you wanted me to touch you all over, my dear October—” he dropped the tube on the dresser and spun to face me, “—you simply had to ask.”

*

“Ugh, Toby, what happened?” May said, shoving a window open. “It reeks of mint in here.”

I snickered. “You’d have to ask Raj and Quentin about that one, May,” I said. May turned to the boys, hands on her hips, and tilted her head to one side.

“Well?” Raj and Quentin looked at each other. Of the two, Quentin looked more embarrassed; Raj mostly looked smug. Then again, Raj was a Prince of Cats—looking smug was basically his job.

“Seriously,” May said, looking between the two of them. “Any interest in explaining why the living room smells like a mint plant exploded in here?”

Well,” Raj said, leaning forward. “It started like this…”